2010 Managing Online Education Survey

Faculty Training is a Major Investment for Online Ed Programs;
ADA Compliance Remains a Major Vulnerability

Colleges and universities engaged in online learning are making major investments in faculty development programs according to a new national survey of senior campus officials who manage online and distance education programs. Additionally, the new survey data suggest that many institutions may be vulnerable to complaints about the accessibility issues because faculty and academic departments, rather than a central office familiar with the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), are responsible for ADA compliance.

Fully half (51 percent) of the 183 two-and four-year colleges and universities participating in the 2010 Managing Online Education (MOE) Survey, sponsored by the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET) and The Campus Computing Project report that faculty who teach in online programs must completea mandatory training.  The mandatory training, which averages 22 hours, reflects a significant investment of institutional resources and also a significant comment of time from faculty who want to teach online courses.

“The survey data highlight a key difference between on-campus and online courses,” says Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project, the organization that conducted with survey with WCET.  “In contrast to their peers in traditional classrooms, both part-time and full-time faculty who teach online courses often must complete significant, specialized training.”

“Mandatory training for faculty who teach online courses reflects an institutional awareness that the online environment is different,” says Ellen Wagner, executive director of WCET. “The all-too-common – and unfortunate – practice of hiring part-timers and handing them a syllabus, textbook, campus map, and parking pass will not suffice for faculty who teach online courses.”

Even as institutions commit to faculty training, the 2010 MOE survey data reveal significant faculty resistance to online education. Almost three-fourths (73 pct.) of the survey participants agree or strongly agree that “faculty resistance to teaching online courses” impedes institutional efforts to expand online education programs.  Three-fifths (61 percent) also cite the “lack of key resources (training instructors support personnel)” as a factor affecting program expansion, while just over half (56 percent) acknowledge that institutional budget cuts also impede program development and growth.  In contrast, external factors apparently pose comparatively few challenges to program expansion:  just 16 percent cite accrediting issues or agencies, 17 percent cite state regulations, 22 percent cite federal student aid regulations, and just over a fourth (26 percent) identify union agreements as factors that impede the expansion of online education at their institutions.   Also of note is that just 13 percent of the survey participants report that employer resistance to hiring students who have completed online certificates or degrees inhibits program expansion.

The survey data document the continuing growth in online education.  Almost all (91 percent) report that that online enrollment has increased over the past three years (2007-2010), and over half(52 percent) report that online enrollments increased by 16 percent or more during this period; 27 percent report online enrollment was up by more than 20 percent.  Looking forward, the survey respondents are bullish about future growth: 96 percent expect online enrollments at their campus to increase over the next three academic years (2011-2013): 30 percent expect online enrollment to grow from 16-20 percent, while 13 percent expect online enrollment gains over 20 percent over the between 2011 and 2013.

Yet even as enrollments grow, the organizational arrangements for managing online education efforts are in transition at many institutions.   More than two-fifths (44 percent) of the survey respondents report that their campus has “reorganized the management of online education” in the past two years, while three-fifths (59 percent) expect to reorganize online education in the next two years.  And almost a third (31 percent) report that their institution has reorganized the management of online education in the past two years and anticipate doing it again in the next two years.   Survey participants cite budget issues (52 percent) and campus efforts to coordinate instructional resources(39 percent) as major factors contributing to the reorganization of online education at their institutions.

Confirming data that first emerged from the 2009 MOE survey, the 2010 data reveal that many campuses do not have formal policies and procedures to assure that their online courses and programs are compliant with ADA mandates.  Fully a third (34 percent) of the campuses participating in the 2010 MOE survey report that ADA compliance for online courses and programs resides with the individual faculty who teach an online course, while almost a fourth (24 percent) report that ADA compliance responsibility resides with academic programs or departments.  In contrast, almost a fifth (17 percent) report no institutional policy or procedure for ADA compliance and almost a tenth (9 percent) report that a central campus office examines a sample of online courses to ADA assure ADA compliance. One in six of the survey respondents (16 percent) indicate that their institution has a central office that examines each course for ADA compliance.

Technical support is also a major issue for faculty who teach and for students enrolled in online courses: the survey data suggest a range of campus strategies to provide technical support for students.  For example, 16 percent of the campuses participating in the survey limit tech support for students in enrolled in online programs to the campus workday (e.g., “Monday-Friday, 9-5”), while a fifth (20 percent) provide tech support for students during campus workdays and during some limited evening hours.  In contrast, a third (32 percent) of the survey participants indicate thattheir campus offers support services on workdays with limited evening and weekend hours and an almost equal number (33 percent) report “24/7” tech support.

The 2010 Managing Online Education Survey is a collaborative initiative of the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET) and The Campus Computing Project.   The survey data are based on the responses from campus officials at 183 two- and four-year public and private US colleges and universities who were surveyed in October and early November 2010.  Survey respondents were typically the senior campus official responsible for the management of online and distance education programs at their institutions.   Copies of the survey report will be available from The Campus Computing Project (campuscomputing.net) on December 10th.