It will be some time before we know the full impact of the COVID-19-induced shift to distance learning this spring – how it has altered the arc of students’ college careers, for example, or affected the extent and nature of their learning.
But now we have some early data on how it reshaped instructor teaching practices.
A survey released today by Bay View Analytics (formerly the Babson Survey Research Group) and its president, digital learning researcher Jeff Seaman, offers insight into the transition that virtually every college, instructor, and student undertook this spring when new coronavirus stopped. campuses across the country.
The survey broadly reinforces, with data, our collective anecdotal impression that higher education has embarked on a massive and sudden shift to distance learning, and that instructors have adapted the way they teach during the transition. .
Learn more about the survey
This survey was conducted by Bay
View Analytics, in collaboration with
the Online Learning Consortium (OLC),
WICHE cooperative for education
Technologies (WCET), the University
Vocational and continuing education
(UPCEA), the Canadian association
Digital Learning Research Association
(CDLRA), and each learner
Everywhere. Cengage funded
On Friday, April 24, Inside Higher Education
will offer a free webcast in which
speakers from Bay View, OLC and
Warren County Community College
will discuss the results and respond
your questions. Please register here.
However, the data brings into sharp relief the reality that instructors have dramatically changed their expectations of students and of themselves, changing or reducing assignments, lowering their expectations both for the amount of work that students do and, to a lesser extent, for the quality of that work.
The study surveyed 826 faculty and administrators at 641 U.S. colleges and universities this month, as many institutions began winding down teaching for the interrupted academic term. Five organizations collaborated on the survey (see box on the right) and Cengage funded it.
Some of the survey’s staging results won’t be particularly surprising.
It finds, for example, that the vast majority of institutions (90%) have engaged in some form of emergency distance/virtual learning to conduct or complete the spring term; those that weren’t were typically colleges that were already exclusively online, or in the few areas of the country where shelter-in-place orders weren’t in effect.
Similarly, three-quarters of instructors (76%) said they had to move some of their classes online to complete the term. Again, the remaining instructors were those who were already teaching entirely online or whose classes had been canceled or suspended due to the pandemic.
Respondent administrators were asked about their instructors’ level of experience with distance learning prior to this spring’s shift. Half (50%) said their institutions have faculty with online teaching experience to ease the transition. The transition this spring has certainly been more difficult for about a third of colleges and universities nationwide that offered few or no online courses before this spring. But Seaman notes that many administrators may not “know which of their professors have online teaching experience,” given that some may have done so at other institutions or in previous jobs, “so they may underestimate that number.
Most of the survey questions focused on understanding How? ‘Or’ What teachers have changed their teaching practices and their approach to students.
A majority, 56%, said they had used “new teaching methods” to move their lessons remotely. Instructors with no previous online teaching experience were much more likely to respond this way than their peers who had taught online before being forced into it this spring.
Asked to list the techniques they used to transition their courses to virtual environments, instructors overwhelmingly cited the use of their institution’s learning management system (83%) and the use of technology synchronous video (80%). This is consistent with damning anecdotal reports that many faculty, especially those inexperienced with integrating technology into their teaching, have responded to this transition largely by clinging to the familiar – giving lectures or organizing class discussions with students via webcams.
Lower proportions, but still the majority, used other forms of video, 65% recorded their own lessons and 51% said they used videos from third-party sources.
There were some differences in the practices adopted by instructors with and without previous online teaching experience, with experienced online instructors less likely than their peers to use synchronous lectures or discussions and more likely to disseminate information using the LMS and use their institution’s conference. or chat function to communicate with students.
Perhaps the most interesting – and perhaps controversial – answers came from a question about how instructors have changed their requirements or expectations of students when moving to remote learning.
Nearly two-thirds said they changed “the types of assignments or exams” they gave students, and nearly half said they lowered their expectations of how much work students would be able to do ( 48%), making life easier for students. pass/fail their courses (47%) and “drop some homework or exams” (46%).
Relatively few, 18%, said they had “dropped out on some of the reading” they had originally expected students to do.
But nearly a third – 32% – said they had “lowered expectations about the quality of work my students will be able to do”.
Instructors with and without previous online teaching experience had roughly similar opinions about their expectations of students, with a few exceptions. More importantly, instructors with previous online experience were 15 percentage points less likely than their peers to lower their expectations of how much work students could do, and somewhat less likely to change the nature of their homework. to students.
Community college faculty members were much less likely than their peers to say their students enjoyed greater flexibility over pass/fail options – 22% vs. 53% and 54% at public and private colleges four years, respectively.
Two-year college lecturers were also half as likely as their peers to say they had lowered their expectations of the quality of student work.
A final set of survey questions asked instructors and administrators what help they could use to better ensure they can provide a quality educational experience for their students.
Both groups focused on student support. The top faculty picks were information on how best to support distance learning students and a webcast for students on how to be successful in online classes. Slim majorities also called for better access to online digital materials and best practices on how to work and teach from home.
Nearly two-thirds of administrators said their institutions would benefit from information about successfully supporting students remotely, and a majority said they would benefit from a range of other tools and services to support students and instructors .
Taken together, Seaman of Bay View said, the results and respondents’ open comments about their experiences and concerns about the fall show the “level of anxiety and scrambling” felt by many instructors during this pivot to the distance learning.
“It’s pervasive the feeling of ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ or ‘I don’t know if my students are doing well online,'” Seaman said.
But it is also clear that despite this anxiety, institutions and instructors have made significant changes on the fly to their teaching practices and expectations in an attempt to effect a required, albeit unwanted, transition. this spring.
The big question going forward is what faculty and colleges can do in the coming weeks to ensure that if campuses are still closed, either fully or partially, to students in the fall, they can respond. to what will likely be a much higher set of expectations for quality teaching and learning.
Some of them are clearly concerned.
“Many of my students don’t have constant access to the technology needed to make online classes possible,” said a professor at a four-year public university. “I worry that we will lose our most vulnerable students if we continue to be online in the fall. I also worry about managing my own time if I have to continue working from home, home schooling and cope with all the additional demands of my students and family in this crisis.”