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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Why Faculty Still Don’t Want to Teach Online | Inside Higher Ed

Photo: Robert Ubell
As a teacher, you may prefer traditional classrooms full of residential students, but virtual education is here to stay and offers significant benefits, writes Robert Ubell, vice dean for online learning at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. This essay is adapted from his book, Going Online: Reflections on Digital Education, available this month from Routledge.

Photo: iStock/Jaroslav Frank

At nearly all colleges and universities, online education is almost never mentioned in academic rules that judge faculty members and determine if they advance. If you teach online, you may do it for extra compensation -- called “overload,” pay above your basic salary -- or for the personal satisfaction of participating in what some believe is the next stage in the evolution of higher education. But teaching online may not be a wise move to further your academic career.

Teaching online can even be a dangerous career move, departing from the comfortable respectability of conventional classrooms for the exotic, suspicious digital world. In the hierarchy of status, if you teach online, do you compromise your position? Will your commitment to scholarship be questioned? Why would you go online when your future depends on publishing results of your research, not engaging in virtual instruction?

In fact, academic departments at some colleges and universities even strongly discourage young faculty from teaching online. It's considered a distraction from your career objectives, while teaching on campus is not only viewed as part of a commitment to a full professional life but also required as the first step in climbing the academic hierarchy. Quality on-campus teaching may contribute to your rise in the ranks but rarely, if ever, does online instruction.

For the most part, that’s because many faculty members still don’t have a very high opinion of online education. According to research conducted by my colleague John Vivolo, director of online and virtual learning at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, about why some faculty members are reluctant to teach online, more than half of Tandon faculty members surveyed believe that virtual instruction offers little interaction with and among students. On the whole, they think the quality of online courses is not as good as on-campus ones.

Most studies of faculty attitudes confirm those findings, especially the belief that online content is inferior. A 2012 comprehensive literature survey by Steven A. Lloyd, Michelle M. Byrne and Tami S. McCoy concluded that most professors believe digital education is not nearly as effective as classroom instruction because virtual instructors do not exchange visual cues with students.

Not surprisingly, the data showed that older and higher-ranking faculty members exhibit the least support for online education. The literature survey also uncovered the troubling fact that professors with the deepest resistance are those with the least familiarity with digital instruction. Conversely, the more faculty members know about online education, the less they reject it. But since most faculty members have little or no experience with virtual education, resistance is widespread.

In a number of other studies, faculty members also express serious concerns about the lack of institutional commitment -- chief among them poor technical and pedagogical support. At some colleges and universities, faculty members are given an access code to their online class and sent into virtual space entirely without preparation. Faculty members who teach online also say they are inadequately compensated for the time it takes to migrate courses from on-campus classrooms to online ones. Moreover, they worry about institutional ownership of their intellectual property, as they often can’t take the virtual course that they developed at one higher education institution to another.
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Source: Inside Higher Ed


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