Surveying Faculty Perceptions

A few weeks ago, the Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) released its annual report of faculty perceptions of information and instructional technology. For those of us who work with technology and professional development in higher education, the yearly release of the report is a little like Christmas. We get to examine research collected from thousands of faculty members across over a hundred US institutions. The report provides a holistic snapshot of what’s happening in our field and what areas need more attention. I know it may sound kind of nerdy, but to me, it’s interesting stuff.

While I’ve linked to the full report above, I thought I’d share a few of the big takeaways that I found interesting…

The majority of faculty prefer some level of face-to-face instruction.
While 51% of faculty who participated in the study prefer blended learning environments, 73% prefer a teaching environment that is either completely or mostly face-to-face. Only 9% of faculty prefer to teach mostly or completely online. Among instructors who have taught at least one online course in the past 12 months, nearly twice as many prefer a mostly or completely face-to-face environment, compared to those who prefer a mostly or completely online engagement with their class.

Technology bans persist.
Rather than just look at laptops, the report breaks down classroom technologies by categories (laptop, tablet, smartphone and wearable technologies) and examines faculty classroom policies of each. Not surprisingly, smartphones were the most banned technologies, with over 50% of faculty reporting that they banned use of smartphones in classroom environments.  Interestingly, almost 50% of faculty also encourage or require the use of laptops in their classes. Clearly, faculty see instructional benefits with some technology (laptops) and instructional distractions with others (smartphones).

Innovation is a complex process to engender.
Across the report, the complexity of higher education environments resonates. For example, older faculty (Baby Boomers and Gen Xers) are almost twice as likely as younger instructors to prefer teaching fully online. While this may be due to a variety of reasons, the authors write:

Older faculty may be tenured and also likely free of the tyranny of teaching evaluations that often stifle pedagogical experimentation and creative approaches to teaching. Compared with younger tenure-track faculty or adjunct instructors who have professional (and personal) incentives to curry the favor of students, tenured faculty can (and should) leverage their positions of authority to serve as catalysts of change for their departments, institutions, and higher education writ large.” (Galanek & Gierdowski, 2019, pg. 6)

Later, when they examine the data on technology bans, the authors report the impact of professional development on faculty technology policies. They write:

Among faculty who receive professional development regarding the use of technology in teaching and who rate that training as good or excellent, 47% ban smartphones. By contrast, 63% of faculty who did not receive this professional development ban those devices.” (Galanek & Gierdowski, 2019, pg. 15)

This is all to say that the factors that influence whether faculty adopt an innovation like online learning or support instructional technology use is based on a lot of factors. While those of us working with faculty professional development already recognize this, the latest ECAR report drives the point home.

Galanek, Joseph D., and Dana C. Gierdowski. ECAR Study of Faculty and Information Technology, 2019. Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, December 2019.

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