College faculty, officials feel prepared to teach online: report

Dive Brief:

  • The majority of college faculty members and administrators feel prepared to teach at least some classes online, according to a new survey of nearly 900 instructors and administrators conducted in early August.
  • However, around a third of instructors and a fourth of administrators said they are “pessimistic” about the future of higher education, though they were more optimistic about their roles in the field and their institutions’ outlooks.
  • Faculty and school officials must balance the competing impacts of pandemic-related revenue reductions and the need for investment in online learning. 

Dive Insight:

Although faculty responding to the survey generally said they felt prepared to teach online this fall, a slightly higher share said so at two-year and private four-year institutions (88%) than at public four-year colleges (81%). Nearly 600 institutions were represented in the survey.

Faculty and administrators across all institution types said they had access to a range of professional development tools for the fall. Both groups rated webinars and self-paced training as the most effective. 

The survey was commissioned by four industry groups and the ed tech company Cengage; it is the second of four assessments designed to get a better sense of colleges’ needs in light of the pandemic. The first survey was taken in April and asked college instructors and administrators about the shift to online learning.

College faculty may feel prepared to teach online, but many spent the summer planning for various instructional scenarios. Several schools delayed decisions about how they would start the fall term until a few weeks before it began. Some that opened for in-person learning had to revert to online classes soon after fall classes started because of outbreaks on campus. 

One of the ways colleges attempted to manage the shift was by tasking instructors to prepare to teach the same class simultaneously online and in person. This would allow them to reach individual students who had to quarantine, and adapt if campuses shut down again. Other schools adopted schedules that had students taking only one or two classes at a time, and many planned to have students leave campus before Thanksgiving break. 

The extent to which colleges can manage campus health and safety with the instructional modes they selected for the fall term will be a major factor in their spring plans, industry experts say. But the shift to online instruction may have longer-term impacts. A report from Moody’s Investors Service last month predicted that the pandemic would speed up colleges’ plans to expand online.

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