October 27, 2020 |
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, faculties are increasingly comfortable with new digital tools in ways that could have a lasting impact on higher education. But even as they embrace online teaching, instructors are concerned about an equity shortage for their students, one said study by the non-profit organization Every Learner Everywhere and the education consultancy Tyton Partners.
The faculty "is warming up to digital and online instruction in a way they did not before," says Dr. Jessica Rowland Williams, Director of Every Learner Everywhere. "We are going much further in the way teachers think about integrating technology into the classroom than we would have been under normal circumstances. However, I think there is still a lot of skepticism. There is still work to be done."
The report is the second in a series of faculty surveys about their attitudes to and acceptance of new technology during the pandemic; the first took place in May and the second in August. About 3,641 teachers teaching from 1,532 national higher education institutions this fall participated. Currently, more than 90% of professors teach at least one online or hybrid course, and 60% use new technology in their classes. From May to August, the faculty confident that online learning could be effective jumped from 39% to 49%. About 72% of the instructors felt willing to teach a high quality course in the fall.
At the same time, two-thirds of the faculty were concerned about the shortage of shares for their students.
“We hear directly from the faculty that they are incredibly concerned about students' ability to have reliable Wi-Fi access, regular access to a computer or suitable device, as well as quiet space and the ability to focus depending on what their living situation is, ”said Kristen Fox, director of Tyton Partners.
Those concerns vary slightly by institution, she added. At two-year colleges, surveys showed that the faculty was mainly concerned about the basic needs of students, such as whether students could "pay their bills". In four-year institutions, the mental health of students was of particular concern.
Nevertheless, more community college professors were convinced that their schools were creating an "ideal digital learning environment" for their students – about 57% of teachers versus 45% at four-year institutions.
That's a "positive surprise," Fox said, as community colleges traditionally operate with fewer resources. "Faculties feel that they are equipped for success there."
At the same time, a higher percentage of faculty reported that enrollment in community colleges had declined compared to institutions for four years, a finding consistent with the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data showing that the number of new community college students has decreased by 22.7%. This worries her, given the too great a role that community colleges play in serving underrepresented students.
"That is and should be concerning, as two-year institutions are such an open entry point for students who are not served in other places," she said. "The very path that you want to be the short starting point of a career is where we see the biggest enrollment drops."
The report also paid special attention to faculty introductory or gateway courses. About 66% of these instructors fear that underrepresented students could fall behind. In line with those concerns, approximately 83% said they create clear expectations and routines for their classes, and 66% maintain personal contact with students. The third and final report will focus on this faculty population because of the role they play in the retention of under-represented students.
"We know that gateway courses are just that – they're gateways to education," said Rowland Williams. “And how students perform in those courses really determines whether or not they graduate and how well they will do throughout their entrance exam. This faculty group is really crucial in creating a strong foundation for students moving into higher education. "
While the commitment of faculties to adopting technology – and their fears of it – is high, researchers also found cause for optimism. They saw that the faculty was using technology in new ways that could survive the pandemic.
For example, the faculty is using new online engagement tools to convince students who weren't talking in class, Fox noted. They do more assessments to check in with students and figure out how to divide content into more optimal, bite-sized pieces.
From Rowland Williams' perspective, this is an opportunity for the faculty to turn their concerns about equality into concrete pedagogical change using their new digital tools.
“Sometimes we get into these conversations around online versus face-to-face, and which one is better,” she said. “I think that's just the wrong question to ask. Because what we're hearing is that students actually want flexibility. They want choices about which learning environment is best suited to their own individual needs. concentrating on is how we can build quality into all learning environments … I hope that is the direction we are taking in the future. "
Sara Weissman can be reached at [email protected]