A great experiment in higher ed is about to unfold

jacqueline-kelly-PeUJyoylfe4-unsplashPhoto by Jacqueline Kelly on Unsplash

As I look back at my most recent post from a year ago, I couldn’t help but notice the “best of times” and “worst of times” in the title and reflect upon the presentation I made at CCCC with my George Mason composition colleagues Ariel Goldenthal and Jen Messier. Our entire presentation, based on data collected from faculty and students, argues that faculty should not be tossed in to online and hybrid teaching without sufficient preparation. 

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, that argument is about to get tested again, but on a scale Ariel, Jen, nor I ever imagined.

When colleges and universities across the United States begin teaching nearly all of their courses online this week or next, they will, by default, create a mountain of evidence about the essentials of faculty professional development for online course design and pedagogy that researchers should try to capture both during and after the semester. Just as important is to collect the enormous amount of data about how students learn online.

As Jonathan Zimmerman noted in his recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, students take online courses for “convenience” rather than their ability to learn more effectively: “Indeed, when students are surveyed, they point to convenience as the most positive attribute of online instruction: You can tune in at any time, sandwiching courses around work and family duties.” Studies continue to show that students tend to have lower passing rates in online courses. Shouldn’t we be studying what happens when they take online courses that are inconvenient for them?

Admittedly, this is a crisis situation and not the typical approach higher education takes to online pedagogy. The results will have significant validity issues.

But the scale of this transition is bound to yield important insights. Researchers need to plan now how to collect qualitative and quantitative data from faculty and students.

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