There have been many articles describing the pivot to online teaching implemented by many colleges and universities around the world as they responded to the social distancing required due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I have written about that in general and about a specific institution’s actions through interviews with the leadership team at Saint Francis University.
Times Higher Education reporter Paul Jump wrote this week about a Times Higher Education survey of university staff on the topic of online teaching. Conducted in October and November of 2020, the survey attracted 520 self-selecting respondents with a majority (334) from the U.K. The survey findings included these facts:
- More than half of the respondents indicated that the initial move to online teaching negatively impacted their mental health, and nearly 60% believe that it impacted their students’ mental health.
- Approximately 20% believe that their students value remote education as much as face-to-face, but less than a third believe that tuition should be discounted when instruction moves online.
- Only 40% of junior academics believe that their reopened universities’ plans for COVID-19 outbreaks are robust versus 70% of senior managers.
- Less than 20% view the two-track (physical and online) approach to teaching as sustainable, whereas 40% regard an online-only future as sustainable.
- Respondents were unsure whether good online teaching results in stronger learning than traditional teaching, but more than twice as many disagree as agree.
- Over 75% would like online meetings to continue beyond the pandemic.
The survey further revealed that only 26 percent of the respondents had a “reasonable amount” or “a lot” of online teaching experience prior to the pandemic, while 36 percent had no online teaching experience at all. Almost all of those who had previously taught online had taught in asynchronous courses whereas most of their universities expected synchronous teaching to replicate the face-to-face experience.
Overall, 47 percent of respondents felt that they were well supported by their institutions to make a successful transition, but 33 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed that their organization’s support was adequate. Part-time faculty felt particularly abandoned, with some respondents noting that all of the training was conducted during working hours for full-time faculty. The survey reviewers noted that the most common refrain was that colleagues who had already taught online were the most useful source of help.
The survey respondents were equally divided between “yes,” “I don’t know,” and “no” as to whether or not students had received training regarding online learning. Respondents from North America and Australasia were more certain that their students had received no training.
Nearly 90 percent of respondents either strongly agreed or agreed that their workload increased following the transition to online learning. Whether it was preparing for delivering the courses online, recording and editing lectures, grading, or just answering questions from students, faculty noted that their workload jumped substantially because of the shift to online education.
Workload pressure appears to have triggered specific mental health episodes. When asked whether the initial move to online teaching had a negative effect on their mental health, 51 percent of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed versus 27 percent who disagreed or strongly disagreed.
Students’ mental health was considered to have suffered more during the initial lockdown than the academics. Lack of training was deemed to have impacted the students as much as the faculty.
One respondent commented that “we have to remember we were offering remote learning in intense crisis conditions, not offering specially designed online courses.” Students who returned to their home states or countries and had to learn synchronously across multiple time zones were particularly impacted.
Student attendance appears to have been impacted slightly. About 37 percent of respondents reported that it dropped, 29 percent reported no change, and 22 percent reported an increase in attendance.
As far as holding students accountable for their academic progress, 59 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they found it more difficult to accurately and constructively assess their students’ performance and progress remotely versus 21 percent who disagreed or strongly disagreed. Some instructors commented that work already completed in the spring accounted for the entire mark in some cases and that work required to be done after the conversion to online was discounted or abandoned.
Other instructors worried about the integrity of assessments. Monitoring academic honesty while teaching remotely was deemed to be difficult. Some professors opted for an open-book exam in order to avoid the need to proctor or monitor for cheating. Others commented that students’ contributions to online discussion boards were positive indicators of course engagement as well as the level of understanding of the topic.
While a majority of faculty agreed that online learning couldn’t replace the quality of a face-to-face learning experience, 52 percent disagreed that tuition and fees should be cut. One reason expressed was the amount of effort put into switching to online teaching.
The ongoing workload requiring many academics to plan and deliver courses online and in person was cited by many as a particularly stressful situation. Only 18 percent of respondents agreed that maintaining a dual pedagogical approach (online and in-person) was sustainable in the medium to long term.
Others reported that sustainability comes at the expense of other academic duties such as research. Faculty are more favorably inclined to believe that the workload associated with online-only course delivery is more sustainable (40 percent agreed).
Interestingly, when asked if online teaching results in stronger learning than traditional teaching, 42 percent of respondents were unsure. Senior managers and learning support staff agreed that the best online education is more effective than in-person teaching. Most respondents noted that online learning has pros and cons.
When asked if they would like to continue to teach online after COVID, in general, the answer was no. Overall, 34 percent indicated that they would prefer to continue to teach online with 45 percent indicating they would not. Some respondents appreciated the reduced commuting time, some appreciated being “away from toxic colleagues,” and others appreciated the quiet and calm. Others noted that campus had a faster, reliable internet and enjoyable interaction with colleagues.
More than half (54 percent) of respondents noted that online lectures should be retained post-COVID. The most popular answer was online meetings should be retained (76 percent). Mr. Jump concludes that despite the relatively quick transition and disruption, it appears that some aspects of online teaching may be here to stay.
The survey results do not surprise me at all. Clearly, a large percentage of faculty realize that online courses could have been better had they had more time to prepare for teaching online.
At the same time, the socialization between colleagues and students that face-to-face teaching provides is valued by many people. The most surprising result to the surveyors was the high percentage of respondents who indicated that online lectures should be retained post-COVID.
I think if those educators reflected further, they would recognize that having pre-recorded lectures avoids the problems incurred when illness or other situations cause a lecturer to miss class and also provides the student who misses class with the opportunity to review the pre-recorded lecture without having to scurry around and borrow notes from someone who attended the class. The follow-up to this question might be how many faculty members not only retained their recorded lectures and used them, but also “flipped the classroom” so that the classroom time is spent discussing the assignments and solving problems.
While I continue to write about higher ed and the pandemic, many more students and faculty were impacted at the K-12 level. I am curious how closely K-12 teachers’ responses would match those from higher ed.
I suspect that many more K-12 students and teachers were impacted by access to technology, from equipment (lack of laptops, lack of internet) to training (how to use a learning management system [LMS], submit assignments, and grade them) to lack of suitable space and supervision for learning. I also suspect that learning outcomes and attendance was more of a problem as well.
Lastly, it’s my educated guess that far fewer K-12 teachers would be in favor of continuing to teach online. If anyone has a similar survey for K-12 to which they can point me, I would appreciate it.