Higher ed: Not ready for prime time

By Christopher Harper

As most colleges and universities cancel in-person classes, many of these institutions are woefully unprepared to teach students online.

When a started teaching online in 2005, I had more than two months of training, and I still had questions. In the current transition, teachers are being asked to get ready, without significant help, in a week or less.

I’ve watched some of the training videos from my university and from national organizations, which are utter torture from bad audio to inane content.

I wanted to learn how to teach online. Many professors professors consider the teaching method as inferior. One colleague sent around a post that tried to convince people to fail in the changeover to online classes because it would give the administration more leverage to force people to do it in the future.

Since I have taught online courses for many years, I have often told my colleagues that the data don’t back up the contention that in-person classes are better.

The real problem is ego. Many professors have a captive audience classroom environment as the master or mistress of the universe, doling out precious bits of knowledge to the students.

It’s not surprising that a survey by Inside Higher Ed found that many professors think online classes do not meet the requirements for a successful learning experience.

Forty-four percent of those surveyed said they taught a course better than anyone else could do so online. Thirty-eight percent said it was possible that both experiences could be equal. Eighteen percent had no opinion.

The survey also found that the more prestigious the school, the greater the ego from its professors.

“The ratios change significantly by subgroup of faculty members. Community college instructors, for instance, are more likely to agree than disagree that online learning can achieve equivalent outcomes in the classes they teach by a 53 to 31 percent margin, while the ratio for private college baccalaureate professors is 15 percent agree to 72 percent disagree,” the survey found. See https://www.insidehighered.com/news/survey/professors-slow-steady-acceptance-online-learning-survey

Ironically, those who have taught online classes found the experience made them better teachers.

“When those instructors were asked how their online experience has most improved their teaching skills, 75 percent said they think more critically about ways to engage students with content,” the report found.

What’s interesting about the research is that colleges and universities often talk the talk of technology but often do not reward those who use it. That’s because most of the people making the decisions are former faculty members rather than professional managers.

Less than a quarter of those surveyed said their institutions reward teachers who do online courses in tenure and promotion cases. Also, those who teach online don’t make any more money.

Students generally applaud the availability of online courses because they provide greater flexibility in scheduling a balance between class and work. Also, students said the availability of online material makes it easier to study for exams. Although online platforms offer the ability to collaborate with other students, surveys find that individuals prefer to do such work in a face-to-face environment.

Although college administrators debate whether online courses cost less, I am convinced they do. The problem is that higher education still has to allocate funds for the administrative maze that colleges have created in recent years. As a result, it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Whatever the case, a grand experiment is about to commence. I hope it ends well even though most colleges and universities aren’t prepared for the experiment.

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