It’s embarrassing to admit this, but there are times when classroom technology just defeats me.
I know I’m not the only faculty member who has felt the deep burning shame of inadequacy when a student has had to come to my rescue in front of all my students by fiddling a bit with some buttons and once again restoring 21st century audio-visual wizardry to my class, while I stand by helplessly. I never get used to that, because there’s probably nothing worse than appearing incompetent in front of students who seem to have been born with smartphones growing from their palms.
That fact that I’m not the only professor in this situation is small comfort, especially now that online teaching has presented faculty with new learning challenges. In today’s higher education world, even the most experienced educators become students struggling to develop new skills. This process has engendered all the angst and hesitance you would expect when teaching old dogs new tricks. In fact, the second half of the Inside Higher Ed and Babson College Survey on Professors and Technology shows that most higher ed faculty members are ambivalent at best and resistant at worst to adopting new digital technologies.
Here are the four main points of the survey’s Executive Summary. Faculty members are:
- generally “more pessimistic than optimistic about online learning,” in sharp contrast to administrators who are overwhelmingly positive about online learning.
- deeply concerned about quality and “believe that the learning outcomes for an online course are inferior or somewhat inferior to those for a comparable face-to-face course.”
- more positive about online learning when they have some experience with it and “faculty with direct online teaching experience have, by far, the most positive views towards online education.”
- convinced that college administrators are “pushing too much instruction online” and do not have the institutional resources to support such programs and provide faculty support.
Interestingly, the majority of professors (60%) recommend online courses when advising students. That figure grows to 80% when they have experience teaching online. In other words, despite concerns about course quality, they still suggest online courses to their students. This discrepancy in viewpoint is probably due to the survey’s discovery that professors are, in general, “excited about various technology-driven trends in higher education, including the growth of e-textbooks and digital library collections, the increased use of data monitoring as a way to track student performance along with their own, and the increasingly popular idea of ‘flipping the classroom.’” Clearly, college instructors walk the line when it comes to new technology: excited about the possibilities, but largely worried about quality.
The Impact of Technology on Job Satisfaction
This ambivalence may be due to a sad reality: many full-time college faculty also report increased levels of stress due to the proliferation of e-mail communication and digital media requirements, mirroring similar trends in other professional fields. While most faculty report increased productivity, that’s a double-edged sword: increased productivity sets a bar for hyper-performance, making it very difficult to maintain an appropriate and not overwhelming work load.
However, the largest indication of dissatisfaction evidenced by faculty members is in the concerns about the quality of online education and the validity of for-profit schools, which often rely heavily on online programs: “the largest concern, by far, among faculty members remains the growth of for-profit education, where only 12 percent say they have more excitement than fear and fully 88 percent say that they have more fear than excitement.”
The Good News for Students
Perhaps predictably, college faculty in the STEM fields are leading the way in the adoption of technology, but all students will be heartened by some of the results of survey having to do with all faculty use of technology. For example, “Forty-three percent of instructors say they create digital teaching materials, open educational resources, or capture lectures on a regular or occasional basis,” and more faculty are using digital material, including computer simulations, e-textbooks and lecture capture, to assist students in learning course material. In addition, “A majority of faculty (58.9 percent) report that they respond to at least 90 percent of all incoming student e-mails within 24 hours.”This is a positive development for students, because it means that questions about course material or other issues will be answered quickly.
I wish this had been the case in 1991, when I took my first graduate course at Boston University. I was told that I could pick up my graded paper at school after the semester was over, from a box outside of the professor’s office (this was well before FERPA made professors aware of student confidentiality issues.) When I got to the professor’s office on a Saturday afternoon, I searched through the box, increasingly panicked as I realized that my paper was not there. I of course imagined the worst: he thought there was something wrong with the paper, I had failed egregiously, or someone had stolen it (a good reason why professors don’t leave papers out anymore.)
I fled home to look up the professor’s home phone number (this was also way before cell phones were common!) To my great relief, when I called the professor he told me that there was nothing wrong with my paper; in fact, he had kept it because he wanted to show a colleague at Brandeis University the unique research approach and my analysis, because that professor was working on the same topic in an entirely different way.
Thus a great panic turned into a great triumph. I would have preferred less angst, though-and e-mail would have made that possible.
Clearly, when it comes to professors and technology, the jury is still out: many welcome it, many fear it, but almost all are using it. Technology-and responses to it-will therefore continue to affect the mode, methods, and success of higher education instruction in ways that we are only beginning to understand.