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16 Rapid Report Reactions: "Digital Faculty: Professors and Technology, 2012"
Friday, August 24, 2012
Steve Kolowich from Inside Higher Education asked for my comments on the second of two reports from surveys conducted by Inside Higher Ed and the Babson Survey Research Group. The first one was on college faculty perspectives related to online education ("Conflicted: Faculty and Higher Education, 2012"). The second one is titled "Digital Faculty: Professors and Technology, 2012." The new report relies on a survey of more than 4,500 college faculty members across the United States and 591 administrators who are responsible for academic technology on their respective campuses. You can access both an HTML and a PDF version of this report. You can also sign up for free and find both reports.

Steve's review of the second survey report came out in Inside Higher Education this morning (August 24, 2012) with the same title as the new report, Digital Faculty: Professors and Technology, 2012 (Steve's overview and expert reactions). It is an excellent review with many insights into the findings, connections to recent technology trends (e.g., flipping the classroom), and reactions from experts. Unfortunately, he was unable to include my comments in this report. Hence, I offer them below after checking with Steve that it was ok to blog them. I do not comment on every aspect of the report, but perhaps reading Steve's summary as well as my blog post below, you can quickly grasp some of the key findings detailed in the report before or after reading it. My comments should also indicate some possibilities for future research in this area. Read on....

16 Rapid Report Reactions: "Digital Faculty: Professors and Technology, 2012"

1.      E-Textbooks (page 5-6 of report): With the emergence of thousands of open access journals and resources, many faculty members are creating online article compilations instead of requiring textbooks; thereby saving students money and potentially expanding the class resources 10 or 20 times beyond what they might have received from a publisher of a single textbook (Steve: see my 64 page emerging learning technology syllabus that I just posted today as a case in point; everything is a hot books to buy). Hence, the question e-textbooks (while it is clear) can have many interpretations. For instance, some might view an “e-textbook” option for students as when the professor or department compiles online or digital articles to replace a textbook.

2.      E-Textbooks (pages 5-6): Another aspect to point #1 above is that while over one-third of faculty members regularly assign books that have e-textbook and traditional formats, I bet that a significant percentage of additional faculty members are using free and open online articles, reports, news, referenceware, books, and other resources to substantially supplement their books and perhaps replace them as I have done. I hate to venture a guess about the percentage but it is likely quite huge. However, it will depend on what is available online in each discipline.

3.      E-Textbooks (pages 5-6): While the percent of faculty members who assigned books that were only in e-textbook format was quite low at 12.1 percent, this is 12 percent that was not doing so a decade ago. And another 16 percent is occasionally doing so. So, stated another way, more than 1 in 4 college professors have replaced printed books at least sometimes with digital ones. That is a sign that the trend toward digital books in higher education has more than reached a tipping point. There is no going back. With such numbers, the publishers and other content providers can creatively experiment with such books and place greater financial resources behind their attempts to e-purpose textbooks.

4.      Digital Materials such as Videos and Simulations (pages 7-8): Digital materials such as simulations and shared online video content are being used regularly or occasionally by most higher education instructors. Such a finding reveals that faculty have come to rely on resources shared and found on the Web to support their instruction. As a result, during the past two decades, we have moved from using traditional media centers to support instruction with their stockpile of videotapes that had to be requested, reviewed, and returned, to an age when millions of free videos are available at one’s fingertips. Such videos, of course, can be watched at any moment and easily replaced when they are no longer available. Importantly, research in psychology has shown that such video content helps learners store information visually, thereby providing another retrieval track. These are exciting times indeed.

5.      Digital Materials such as Videos and Simulations (pages 7-8): The problem with this question, however, is that I see far greater use of videos in higher education than the use of simulations. Naturally, the use of share online video as well as simulations varies by discipline. In field like medicine, engineering, and business, more research and development money exists to create rich simulations that can be shared and reused compared to areas like history, religious studies, or education. In addition, there are other contents available online today that the Digital Faculty report did not ask about, including animations, podcasts, interactive timelines and maps, online referenceware (e.g., discipline-based multimedia glossaries), etc. Such contents are exploding in use on the Web, especially interactive maps and timelines.  Consequently, while this particular survey item is highly intriguing, there is much follow-up research that might be conducted.

6.      Digital Materials used in FTF, Blended, and Fully Online Courses (pages 7-8): Naturally, faculty members who teach in blended and fully online formats use such pedagogical supplements more often that those teaching in traditional classrooms. One plausible reason is that faculty members with such technology interests and leanings may self-select into online environments. A second reason is that their students will expect them to take at least a little bit of risk and experiment with new simulation tools and digital books. Many other reasons exist.

7.      Faculty Creation of Digital Materials (page 8): More than 4 in 10 faculty members are creating content regularly or occasionally to use within their classes. This finding can be interpreted in at least a couple of ways. First, college instructors (and teachers in any setting) always create content. However, what is unique here is that the content produced now is digital—podcasts, blogs, portals, simulations, e-books, online lectures, etc. While, as revealed in this study, a fairly small percent of faculty members are creating open educational resources in the form of lecture capture, it is difficult to create content with all the different media formats and technologies available today. Lectures, while vital in many content areas, are not the only type of open educational resource that can benefit students. It may be vital to explore the different types of content creation activities that college faculty partake in today. It might also be useful to try to understand why 90 percent of college faculty are not using lecture capture on a regular basis.

8.      Faculty Used Lecture Capture to Record or Stream-In Instruction (pages 9-10): The fact that those teaching fully online are doing lecture capture makes sense. Today, synchronous conferencing systems like Elluminate (now Blackboard Collaborate) and Adobe Connect Pro have tools to record synchronous sessions and make them available for students who missed them for whatever reason. Weekly guest expert presentations as well as instructor lectures can be saved not only for current students but also for those who will take the course in the coming semesters. In effect, faculty may not go into an online course with the explicit intention of capturing lectures; it just might be a by-product of teaching online. Hence, the data highlighted in the “Digital Faculty” report about lecture capture is not too surprising. In addition, some faculty members who are teaching online might be nervous about it or might want to make sure that online students have the same lecture materials that face-to-face ones have. Hence, they will record a set of lecture videos before the class starts or as it is ongoing.

9.      Fairness of Reward Structures for Digital Pedagogy (pages 10-11): Another straightforward and expected finding relates to the data in this report on reward structures for digital pedagogy. Some institutions are perceived to be making a concerted effort to reward faculty and some are not. The statistics are split. Still, the data revealed in this report are much more positive than surveys of 10-12 years ago. And sure, when there are vast institutional differences and perhaps competitive systems of rewards in places that do have rewards, the administrators who are funding such programs are going to be more positive about the fairness of such systems than the individual instructors who receive (or don’t receive) the rewards.

10.   Training and Support for Lecture Capture (page 34): The data reported on training and support for digital tools in the classroom is also quite a bit better than was witnessed a decade ago. Still nearly a quarter of faculty members surveyed believe that such training needs improvement. Clearly, higher education institutions still have a ways to go in terms of supporting faculty teaching with technology.

11.   Faculty Perspectives and Rewards Related to Digital Publishing (pages 12-16): It is unfortunate that college faculty do not see rewards from publishing their research in a digital format. Perhaps, like perceptions of online learning, this will change as we all become more familiar with digital outlets for our research. The low percentage of regular digital scholarship is particularly disappointing given all the avenues for such scholarship to be displayed today. Digital scholarship is not just seen in online papers. I have seen it displayed in wiki compilations of various publications from a research team; blog reflections on the progress of one’s research and links to online research articles; video interviews and podcasts of one’s research that get posted with the open access publications; publishing research in free open access articles; wikibooks of research on a topic from a set of researchers in a particular institution or across research sites; online interviews about one’s research; digital books; etc. All of these avenues for dissemination make it difficult for promotion and tenure committees as well as external reviewers of faculty dossiers to make decisions about tenure. Decision making was much less complicated when the outlets where fewer in number. Many of the traditional outlets still exist, and so the easiest way to award tenure is to place perceptual blinders on the other ones for now. Such practices will undoubtedly change in most disciplines during the coming decade or two. Such a case can be made from the data in this report given that faculty believe that the online quality of contents has been getting stronger lately.

12.   Use of Social Media for Interacting with Students and Colleagues (pages 17-18): It is not surprising that faculty use social media to interact with other their colleagues and not students. College instructors only have so much time and personal resources available. If hundreds or thousands of students had their Skype contacts and were friends with them in Facebook, it would be difficult to get day-to-day tasks completed.

13.   Digital Communication Technology and Media Impact on Productivity, Creativity, and Scholarly Collaboration (pages 18-23) and Stress (pages 28-29). The data on enhanced communication, productivity, creativity, collaboration, and connections with others in your scholarly community is perhaps the most important finding of this study. And the fact that female instructors have experienced such enhanced creativity, productivity, and collaboration from digital technology is certainly worth discussing further and following up with additional research. Sure, this constant connection to others and to rich veins of data with this technology can be daunting and quite stressful. Without a doubt, we are getting requests to respond to others via email from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed. Case in point, I had 157 emails in my in-basket to read during the day today (Wednesday) that were not spam. In addition, I had 139 emails that I composed and sent out to others. Despite these email stressors and constant contact from others, the survey data shown here signals that we are more creative creatures who are making contributions today in global venues that would have been impossible just a decade or two ago without such technology.

14.   Daily Email and Responsiveness (pages 24-27): Teaching online and blended brings with it more email. Sure, students want to connect. They want a sense of social presence. Email and synchronous class sessions can provide that sense of instructor caring and feedback.

15.   Use of LMS (pages 30-32): Interesting that the main features of a learning management system (LMS) is to share a syllabus and communicate with students. These two tasks can be accomplished today without an LMS. Also interesting to see the gap between administrators and faculty in terms of tracking student attendance. Administrators are sold on these LMSs since they can track attendance, participation, grades, etc. They manage learning. From my perspective, most faculty members could really care less about such computer log data. College instructors and students are more concerned with the pedagogical and motivational side of learning with digital technology than simple counts of butts in seats—they want rich interaction, engagement, meaningful learning, goal-driven pursuits, feedback, collaboration, etc. In effect, they want powerful and transformative learning. Faculty live in the moment of the course. Administrators fly over the top of the course and rely on sometimes computer log data to determine the course or system effectiveness. Hence, the survey reveals different perceptions of importance on these digital learning technologies.

16.   Excitement or Fears About the Future (pages 35-36): The fact that free content, digital resources, blended learning opportunities, and additional data on teaching are all deemed positive and exciting, while for profit and online education is less exciting and even stressful makes sense. The latter are major structural changes in higher education. The former are enhancements to the present system.

I hope the above comments on the Digital Faculty: Professors and Technology, 2012 report are helpful (HTML, PDF). More information on both reports is here: Babson/Inside Higher Education reports). Steve's overview of this report today in Inside Higher Education is here.

Anyone not yet drowning in data, can read dozens of other similar reports from the past couple of years as listed in my 64 page "monster" R685 syllabus on Emerging Learning Technologies. Class started this past Monday. it is an online class. Many guest speakers (typically Monday nights at 7 pm EST). We had Michael Horn from the Innosight Institute this past Monday. He was fantastic. Anyone is welcome to attend (see syllabus for details). Wish me well in managing the monster. More on this in my next blog post in a couple of days.

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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