Conclusion and Recommendations
This report is the third study of faculty and information technology to be conducted by ECAR. While many of the tools and technologies used by faculty have changed, many have remained consistent, and even the ways in which faculty are using these tools and technologies have remained remarkably consistent. What’s more, faculty attitudes about these tools and technologies have remained consistent. While perhaps unsurprising, this becomes a problem when juxtaposed with the finding from the student study that students want their instructors to use more technology. This desire by students for more technology in their courses is in line with the evidence that blended instruction has stronger learning outcomes than either fully online or fully face-to-face instruction. Perhaps the most important finding to come out of this year’s faculty study is that faculty remain either unaware of or unconvinced by these research findings. This puts the burden on institutions that offer online courses or programs—or that desire to increase their online offerings—to present this evidence to faculty in an effort to try to convince them to engage in more effective teaching practices. Campus IT organizations, centers for teaching and learning, and other campus units that support the faculty in a variety of ways have the infrastructure and resources to help in these efforts. Where faculty require more and better training and professional development opportunities, IT units in particular can provide programs, workshops, and information sessions. This report serves as an important first step toward bridging that gap by providing IT organizations with information about faculty experiences with technology in higher education.
- Information security training should be customized to the audience. Most faculty find their institution’s information security training to be useful. But criticisms of this training are that it is too simplistic or too technical and that it is outdated. Live training sessions, offered in person, would be well received. And to be seen as relevant by faculty, sessions must include specific information and recommendations for the institution, for the discipline, and for the types of data collected by and activities being performed by the faculty audience members.
- Institutions that offer online courses or programs should make an effort to present to faculty the research about the efficacy of fully online and blended learning for achieving student learning outcomes. Many faculty are either unaware of or unconvinced by the research findings that fully online courses produce learning gains that are indistinguishable from those produced in fully face-to-face environments and that blended instruction has stronger learning outcomes than either mode alone. It should be a critical function of centers for teaching and learning at institutions with online courses or programs to present this evidence to faculty as part of any training in instructional design or use of tools for online teaching.
- Institutions that offer online courses or programs should provide incentives to faculty to redesign classroom-based courses for the online environment. Stipends and especially course release time are effective motivators for faculty.
- Researchers studying online teaching and learning should prioritize collecting data about the efficacy of tools, technologies, and practices for which the evidence base is not yet robust. In particular, data on the services provided by student success management systems such as course suggestions and early-alert systems would be valuable.
- Institutions and academic units should provide—and actively promote—training for students in the use of technologies that students will use in their courses. Students will inevitably use many tools and technologies, both commercially available (such as the Microsoft Office and Google Drive suites) and institutionally specific (such as the LMS). Many students feel unprepared to use institutionally specific technology, and some even feel unprepared to use commercial software. Regardless of the number or size of online courses or programs at an institution, technology is critical to student success, so this lack of knowledge and confidence is a major point of failure for students. This is comparatively easily remedied, however: Institutions should identify the most critical training needs among the student body and then provide and actively promote training opportunities in these areas. Faculty are critical to improving student technology literacy by encouraging or even requiring students to attend the trainings.
- Institutions that offer online courses or programs should develop reward systems that encourage innovation in teaching. At research institutions particularly, though not exclusively, innovation in teaching is not well rewarded in tenure and promotion processes. Faculty who have more confidence in their classroom management skills are more likely to encourage or require students to use computing devices in the classroom. This confidence comes naturally with age and with a greater number of years in a faculty position. This confidence should also come from knowledge that the institution’s policies regarding evaluation of teaching support the faculty member in experimentation and innovation with technology in the classroom and online.