Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Faculty Perceptions of Online Courses

Last night, I turned in my final homework assignment for an online meta-analysis course I was taking. I'm pleased to say I've learned a lot, and have improved my R coding skills, though I have a long way to go to get the level where I want to be. I think for my next online course, I might do something in programming, so I can get the fundamentals down.

This is the fourth course I've taken through Statistics.com. The first two, which were in Item Response Theory and Rasch Analysis, respectively, helped me get my current job as a psychometrician. I'd taken some online courses previously but this paradigm didn't really take off until after I was finished with college. Today, online courses are everywhere, and different institutions offering online-only education have popped up. So it's interesting to see that Gallup just yesterday published the results of a survey of higher ed faculty, on their perceptions about the quality of online courses.

The results are based on an online survey (oh, the irony - just kidding) of 1,671 faculty members from US colleges and universities, which included private, public, and for-profit institutions. While I can't complain about the size of the sample, they sent out almost 23,000 survey invitations, meaning their response rate was only about 7.3% - this is low, even for an online survey. To make the obtained sample more similar to the population they are trying to represent, responses were weighted by institutional characteristics (such as public/private, 2-year/4-year degree offerings, enrollment size, and geographic region). What this means is that if I received fewer responses from public institutions than I would expect based on their proportion in the population, I would weight each of those responses a little more than I would responses from private institutions.

Overall, only 19% of higher ed faculty agree or strongly agree that online courses are similar in quality to traditional courses. About a third of respondents said they'd taught online courses before, and this experience moderated perceptions of the quality of online courses:
These faculty [who have taught online courses] are increasingly optimistic about the equality of online and in-person courses the "closer to home" the educational context; 32% agree or strongly agree that equal outcomes are achievable for online and in-person courses at any institution, and 52% agree or strongly agree this is possible for the classes they teach. Those who have taught online are four times more likely than their inexperienced peers to agree or strongly agree that equal learning outcomes can be achieved for online and in-person versions of the classes they teach (52% vs. 12%).

While faculty with online teaching experience grow increasingly positive, faculty sans online teaching experience grow increasingly skeptical about the equality of online and in-person learning outcomes the "closer to home" the educational context. Six in 10 (61%) of faculty members without online experience disagree or strongly disagree that equal online and in-person learning outcomes can be achieved at any institution, but more disagree or strongly disagree (78%) they can achieve the same outcomes for the classes they teach.
Faculty members with online teaching experience also recognized the ways online courses can improve their teaching skills, such as by forcing them to find creative ways to get students to engage with the content and make better use of multimedia content.

The full report can be found here.

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