Sunday, July 22, 2012

College Professors Fearful of Online Education Growth. From


Online education continues its meteoric rise on college campuses, and many faculty members are frightened by its growth and prevalence, notes a recent study by Inside Higher Ed and the Babson Survey Research Group, which has spent more than a decade studying online education.

The report, which surveyed 4,564 faculty members, reveals that 58 percent of respondents "described themselves as filled more with fear than with excitement" over the growth of online courses within higher education.



  1. 66 percent of all faculty members surveyed say that the learning outcomes of online courses are inferior, compared to traditional courses. Among faculty members who teach online courses exclusively, 39 percent note that online courses produce inferior learning outcomes.

    Necessarily. In any course more difficult than regurgitate-and-forget, learning outcomes will be adversely affected by the lack of face-to-face contact between instructor and student. There's no substitute for face time.

  2. For my part, I am not against online education because of fear. I embraced it and pursued it avidly for eight years. I am against it because it sucks as a way of life for me, the instructor. Part of that "sucks" is about shitty conditions, of course. But it is easier for the system to see us as cogs if they never see us, physically, so it contributes, to some degree, to shitty compensation etc., I assume. But part of it isn't just the pay or job security. It's the methodological micromanaging, the anonymity, the all-computers-all-the-time life, the serious limitations of not being able to just talk to your students every now and then.

  3. I was one of the 4654. And my view of online education is jaundiced, at best. I have plenty of colleagues who have a split appointment (50% online, 50% F2F classes) who just loooove teaching online, partly because they can teach in their PJs (though from what I have heard, these classes are more work not just for the student, but for the professor also).

    But for me, no thanks. I did not get into this profession to stare at a computer screen. Part of good teaching is the performance aspect (IMO) which is totally lost in an online environment.

    I am not an "instructional designer"--I'm a college professor. I am not interested in cookie-cutter classes. Part of the reason I do not teach in our online program is that I have built my classes (to achieve the LOs) and they are unique--and I'm not allowed to have a unique online Comp course. (And for those of you who make your living this way, you have my deepest sympathy.)

  4. I've taken exactly one online course, and I spent a good deal of time in the instructor's physical office during his office hours getting things explained to me. Even as a student, I needed the face-time to really get it.

  5. As a non-traditional student, I feel strongly that meeting with the instructor is vital to success in any class.

    Interaction is important to me, face to face learning is best for all concerned.

    I find my focus is better in a classroom setting with fewer distractions than at home on a computer.

  6. Of course I'm afraid. I don't believe my university administration puts quality of education above all else. They will be happy to maximize their revenue by using on-line courses to create effectively very high student-teacher ratios, hire sessionals for those courses, and take as many students' money as they can. Many students will be happy doing this because they hate having to come to class at a particular time or having to participate in discussion in class. At the moment, my university's collective agreeement (I believe) protects faculty from being compelled to teach online courses, but I don't expect that will survive the next round of negotiations.

  7. Online education isn't inherently bad or inherently good. As with all pedagogical approaches, the quality of education is tied directly to the quality of the design.

    Most people design lazy courses. Lecturing is notoriously bad for retention. Typing information on computers rather than hand writing it is terrible for retention.

    However, student-generated learning -- genuine research projects, creation of performances or lectures or presentations (even online ones through Prezi!) are very GOOD retention-building lessons. These can be in class or online.

    Face to face itself is not always better than online. In fact, many professors in the lecture style are not doing their students any good. But online is not as exciting as online proponents claim.

    The future has to be blended. We need to toss the lecture format and embrace student-generated learning in a mixture of class time and online formats. Those who resist online learning will be left behind and those who embrace technology just because it's new will not be successful in conveying skills.

    Out with the old and in with the new, but NOT new for new's sake. New must be tied with success.

    1. student-generated learning -- genuine research projects, creation of performances or lectures or presentations (even online ones through Prezi!) are very GOOD retention-building lessons. These can be in class or online.

      Indeed. This is the sort of thing I do a lot of, in all platforms (face to face, hybrid, online -- though I'm still working on including presentations online. I know it can be done, and without all that much difficulty; I was thinking of powerpoints delivered via screenshots, but Prezi sounds like a good idea, too. Is there a way to incorporate voice?) However, making the online research projects "genuine" -- in the sense that they yield information that the students is then expected to apply to a later assignment, and is thus not included in the prompt for that assignment (which says "apply what you learned in Project A" instead) looks like it may be a problem in online courses going forward, because that means that the information is not actually *in* the course materials I turn in to assessors, and they can't be sure that the students will learn something if I don't tell it to them directly (and preferably also test it via pre- an post-quiz). Never mind that, among other things, I'm trying to teach them to figure things out for themselves. Aargh.

    2. Oops. "students are," not "students is"

  8. I teach face to face and online and I hate teaching online. F2F I rarely get stupid entitled shit. Online I get it constantly. I suspect it is a matter of my personality or something preventing it in real life, which does not translate into online spaces at all. Online I get students like one this summer that asked if he could just read a different book on the topic (like read the pages I assigned in a different book). I said no. Bad teaching eval. Complaints to my Chair. ELL students that are just getting used to the language are asked to take online courses by their advisors that they have no chance of succeeding in without a lot of extra help (in their case I'm happy to help, but it is difficult over the phone or e-mail). Students cheat, and cheat, and cheat. OMG the freaking cheating. My classes are interactive. There are videos. There are interactive demos (that I built myself, stupid textbook company be damned). The students skip them and just do the assignments, and fail. It is, with our current students anyway, the singular most annoying way to do my job. Forget fear. I'm just intensely annoyed that admins don't seem to give a crap about how poorly the system, at this time, works.

  9. Sorry folks ... I've done F2F and online as both student and faculty and cannot fathom how anyone can unequivocally state "face time is necessary."

    You've never retained information/learning from reading on your own?
    You've never followed directions to learn a new skill/assemble a new purchase?

    You always needed someone to explain those things to you? Seriously?

    I understand the perception that F2F has an aspect of personal connectiveness. But you honestly know the name of everyone in your 25/75/100/300+ class? Every one of them is an eager and active participant? (In an essay in the New York Times Mark Edmundson recently claimed he had an active dialogue with the 100+ students in his F2F lecture class which would be impossible in an online class, which, in my experience are usually capped at 25.) F2F classes aren't usually a conversation between you, one or two keeners, and maybe one or two back-ups, and several dozen pairs of glassed over eyes?

    Sorry ProfHearse, but I get online students who predicate their whiny shit by claiming (as Bob did here) that they neeeeeed F2F interaction, so they do the next best thing and overflow my EMail with inane questions that they would have just asked after class or in office hours.

    These pages are overflowing with rants about how office hours are sparsely attended except for the uberneedies who show up 24/7/365 begging for attention. Well, they have our EMail addresses now ... both F2F and online ... but online that is ALL they get. For the few who would seem to truly benefit from something a bit less impersonal, telephones still work.

    And .. the cheating? Perhaps you heard of the latest cheating scandal, this time at the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in NYC where students in F2F classes used smartphones to send exam answers around. I've given the same exam to a hybrid and a F2F only class and had nearly equivalent rates of cheating. Finding it via the online delivered exam was much easier though, as I could electronically search for suspicious content that required manual searching for the F2F class exams.

    I agree with AdMonk there are plusses and minuses on both sides; neither is inherently better/worse than the other. I agree with those railing against the standardized curricula. But, again, I have seen those on campus and online. And, I have been in online programs where I had complete autonomy to create the course as I wished.

    Both F2F and online are, unfortunately, succumbing to the student-as-customer model. But again, this isn't happening because of the online delivery. It's not even because there are more for-profits in the online sector; there are plenty of customer service F2F programs. Ironically, the US DoE's "gainful employment" rule for for-profits is more directed at the F2F programs.

    Finally, given how often and how many people come here to rant about inflexible administrators and slavish adherence to outmoded or ineffective pedagogy, I am surprised by the number declaring the "obvious" superiority of F2F delivery. Many people have succeeded at learning (and teaching) via non-face-to-face modalities. Perhaps, like we often rail about all teaching, we could focus expanding applications that work and jettison those that do not.

    1. Also: If 25 hands go up in a F2F class, only one person is called on to speak. In an online forum, all 25 may post their replies, you may read through them all and comment on a few.

      Often in my F2F classes I wish I were online so I could scan what each of those 25 hands had to say before picking a handful to hold up as ideal conversation-starters.

  10. Others have already touched on these ideas, but the lines from the article that caught my eye had to do with the difference between online courses and good online courses. As a lecturer, I face the same type of assumptions that lectures are 'by definition' boring. That the simple act of standing at the front of a room and talking to students must somehow mean that I am deadly dully, dry, and interested only in the regurgitation of facts. (Anyone ever seen a Spalding Gray monologue? They couldn't possibly be interesting if they consist of one man talking for an hour and a half).

    So I do believe that it is possible to design a good online course.
    What I also believe:
    a) Administrators will assume that all online learning needs is a few servers and some adjuncts in cubicles. Just like they believe that as long as the proffie at the lectern has a pulse, the F2F class is fine.
    b) Students (many of them anyway) will assume that all online learning needs is to visit a few webpages, download a few pdfs and upload some bumf written in their pajamas the night before the assignments are due. Just like they assume that as long as they buy the book, attend the occasional lecture, and submit some bumf written in their pajamas the night before the assignments are due, then they will pass their F2F courses.
    c) When either of the above groups are disabused of these misapprehensions, they will reflexively blame the poor schmuck trying to teach the course.

    1. Amen to all of the above, and particularly to the good/bad online course distinction. The issue is not the medium, it's how much time and money the participants are willing to invest in the endeavor.

      And as for the lecture-bashing -- in the normal cycle of educational fads, I'd guess that we're about a decade away from a lecture revival. But with the current speeding-up of trends, and the money crunch in academe (not to mention all the money and effort people are investing in streaming lectures over the internet), I'd guess it will come sooner. They'll be touted as new and improved somehow (now with powerpoint and clickers!!! never mind that we have those now; the clickers will be fancier somehow -- tweets, maybe?-- and that will be the key. Or maybe we'll go back to index cards and call it retro). But there won't actually be any significant change (except, perhaps, they'll be recorded, and students will be able to pause, rewind, etc. After a year or so, the novelty of that will wear off, and they'll throng office hours and email to ask questions, leading proffies to say "if you want your questions answered, come to the in-person lecture, which will have a 10-minute question period at the end -- which will then be recorded, and/or questions by email and skype and tweet will be allowed, and so on. . . .)

  11. I'm gonna have to go with BurntChrome here. I fear online instruction because it degrades the quality of my job below what I am willing to do. If I had wanted to spend time sitting in front of a screen all day, every day, I'd have gone into tech and made a hell of a lot more money. Or into writing fiction and done whatever the hell I wanted with the rest of my time. As it is, I need face-to-face interaction with my colleagues and students to make my life liveable. If they turn me into a screen wonk, I'm quitting. The end.

    1. For "do" in the first sentence, substitute "bear." I knew something sounded wrong there.

    2. While I respect your awareness of what you find sustaining, F&T, as an adjunct who taught F2F, it is a very different experience.

      Other than the 20 or so students I saw 3 hours, once a week, I had zero interaction with anyone else from the college. They had a pretty nice orientation at the beginning of the term (with sandwiches and cookies) and then ... nothing.

      (For this discussion, we'll ignore how my three year relationship with this particular SLAC ended just as silently, with my regular assignments simply stopping -- no message, no letter, nothing. Just my EMail account blinking out a year later.)

      I would walk on to a sparsely populated campus and then leave a deserted one.

      And the class, as I commented earlier, a couple of keeners who engaged consistently and eagerly, a couple more who popped up occasionally, and the remaining 75-80% of the class were agonizingly disengaged. On average, 95% ran for the door at the end of class (and yes, I did everything I could to make the class engaging!). The 5% who stayed occasionally, generally wanted accommodations for late assignments or wanted to ask something they could have answered if they had RTFS. There were precious few extended conversations about the topics raised in class or about the discipline in general. Though, I will grant you, those rare instances when such inquiries did arise, helped put a spring in my step on the way to my car. But, to be fair, I have had some similar experiences with my online students ... either via discussion forums or telephone calls.

      (For the record, during graduate school, I did adjunct during the day, but had largely the same experience, save for the one instance when I had a student have a screaming meltdown in the middle of class. Now, THAT is something that cannot be duplicated online!)

      Ultimately, though, what you've identified is what YOU want your experience as an instructor to be like, not what is effective or valuable to your students.

    3. That sucks! And it mirrors what I experienced when I was adjuncting for the first half of my career (thus far)... except I didn't mind being alone at night with only my students for company. I enjoyed feeling independent of the institution, so it wasn't a horrific experience.

      But your miserable adjuncting experience doesn't make online teaching better for everyone, does it? While you might enjoy it and teach in a discipline where it is feasible to teach GOOD classes online, that's not true of all areas, is it? And while your experience with online teaching has been positive, that doesn't mean everyone would have the same positive experience.

  12. I actually *like* online teaching, think it can be done well, and think I have done it well, but I nevertheless fear where it seems to be going. Done well, it does take more time than face to face teaching, but, as an introvert, I also find it considerably less exhausting to deal with students virtually than face to face, so for me (and, I suspect, for some students, though probably not nearly as many as are signing up for online classes), there's a tradeoff of time vs. energy consumed. I do incorporate some in-person, or at least spoken face-to-face (via Skype) elements -- e.g. conferences -- and agree that those are helpful.

    The problem I'm facing is that, for the past 5+ years, we've been relatively free to design our own online classes, in much the same way that we design traditional face to face classes (and using the same model BurntChrome describes: the program sets the learning goals and some basic assignment parameters like total polished/revised words produced over the semester; we get to do pretty much whatever we want within that framework, and to experiment and innovate when and as we choose). However, our office of online education is now, in the name of guaranteeing quality, taking an much more active role in shaping curriculum, and is moving us toward a much more standardized model what strikes me as suspiciously similar to that used by the companies that create pre-packaged courses. It's also very content-focused, and I teach a skill-focused (writing) class. And it insists that we specify pretty much everything up front, so assessors at various levels can check the content being delivered; I'm seeing very little room for the approach I use, in which I guide students through the process of discovering many things for themselves (and am even prepared to be surprised at times by what they find, and have students in different sections and/or semesters find somewhat different thing; in other words, I'm perfectly happy with course content that is, to a degree, unpredictable and nonstandardized; horrors!)

    So, basically, I've been enjoying teaching online, and think that my online classes are as good as, though different in some ways than, my face to face ones, but now fear that university-level mandates are undermining the quality of my program's online curriculum (and curtailing my freedom to innovate and experiment, and thus the part of my job that I enjoy most), all in the name of assuring quality. And all kinds of different powers-that-be want to see more sections of the course I teach be taught online, so this would be a very bad time for me to decide to retreat to the traditional classroom (all the more so because I'm contingent, and need to have my contract renewed every few years -- which actually makes me a very fortunate contingent faculty member, but the last thing I need to do, now that I'm pushing 50, is be seen as resisting technology, since nobody will remember in a few years that I was originally an early adopter, and only resisted when they made me feel like a widget-maker). Y

    es, I get a headache whenever I think about this (so I've been trying to avoid doing so this summer, though I will have to soon).

  13. Aware and Scared, I've done all that. I was an adjunct too. No matter what, I needed the human contact with students. I need to listen, reflect, and talk. Period. More than 4 hours in front of a computer screen -- which I prefer to spend writing -- and my eyes are shot.

    I believe that what makes my work conditions liveable is best for my students, too. I know I am an extremely good teacher, with 20 years' classroom experience. If people who are good leave the profession, students suffer. But I don't owe them my life, and this whole "do it for love/the students/the life of the mind" is a bullshit excuse to degrade our labor. I'm not falling for it. If this profession shits all over its members, it can go to hell. I'm not going with it. I'll fight for what I can for the people hired after me, but I never promised to be a martyr.

    1. F&T we are completely in agreement regarding the non-martyr, it's not just about the "love/students/mind" etc. There are issues of the degradation of quality bubbling up throughout academe.

      Still not seeing how this is a F2F vs. online issue.

  14. One thing that strikes me, reading over the comments above, is that "online instruction" means very different things to different people, depending on our present and prior experience, the modes and conditions in we're accustomed to teaching face to face classes, etc., etc. We (and proffies at large) need to listen carefully to each other -- which I think we're beginning to do here -- and notice all the distinctions and variations and possibilities, and be ready to explain them to the larger public, because almost nobody else seems to be doing it.

    I'd especially note that those of us who have little choice *but* to teach online (or to leave the profession, which is, indeed, a possibility, but maybe not in the present economy, and, as F&T points out, there's still the question of what we leave behind) need the support of those with more choice (i.e. those with tenure) in defining the nature of a good online class, and championing the necessity of faculty teaching online classes having the same degree of academic/curricular freedom and flexibility as is granted to teachers in f2f courses. We need close scrutiny, by those who still have the power to say "no; that won't do" of *how* online classes are being created, conducted, revised, and assessed, and a robust conversation about which parts of which classes might effectively be taught online, how they might be taught, what resources will be necessary to maintain quality, etc., etc. Otherwise, the cookie cutter/standardized (at best)/mechanized (at worst) approach is going to win out, because those of us actually teaching online have neither the voice nor the power nor the time nor the energy to resist the direction in which we're being herded. I realize TT faculty have little of any of the above, either, but please? a little help here??

    1. I totally agree with what you've said here, Cass.

      It troubles me though that many here (and beyond, note the OP article) seem hardwired to dismiss non-F2F delivery.

      There are so many variables in play.
      I fell asleep (literally nodded off as the class began, awoke as it broke up) in an undergraduate logic class because the instructor was Ambien strength boring.

      I nearly cried when I realized the level of "rigor" of the curriculum of my F2F Master's in education more or less matched the K-12'ers I was supposedly preparing to teach.

      However, my distance delivered doctoral program in Wombat Emotions totally kicked my butt with the depth and complexity of the work. Additionally, as most of the students were mid-career adults, the discussions (where, yes, everyone HAD to participate) were quite expansive and engaging.

      Again, there are goods and bads in everything. While I have no faith in the unsupported edu-fad clap trap of multiple intelligences, I concede that some people sincerely prefer one delivery style over another.

      However, that doesn't inherently make one approach better or worse than another.
      It doesn't mean that online learning can't (or hasn't) worked.

  15. Online education is the best opportunity for everyone to be educated and intelligent in the discipline chosen. By the way, if you have some troubles in studies, you're welcome here


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