In an unknown future, one thing is certain: higher education and education technology (EdTech) are integrally connected. But far from shrinking away from the change, a new report by the College Innovation Network (CIN) has found that the majority of faculty are embracing the technology that allows them to reach, connect with, and serve their students, particularly those from marginalized communities.
The latest survey is one in a series conducted by CIN, a network of institutions that implement EdTech using experimental and observable methods to better understand its impacts. CIN is a part of WGU Labs, which works to develop EdTech innovation.
To find out how faculty felt about and used technology, CIN interviewed 402 faculty members at a range of higher education institutions and found that only 11% expressed a resistance to technology, the rest identifying as either EdTech leaders or enthusiastic followers. The majority of faculty (81%) said they felt confident adapting EdTech for their courses, and 88% of faculty said they anticipate teaching or leading more courses online in the future.
Dr. Nicole Barbaro, senior communications content manager at WGU Labs and author of the report, said this runs contrary to the narrative that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That narrative was enhanced at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Barbaro, partially because many faculty were asked to move their classes online in very short amount of time, sometimes over a weekend.
“You can’t just put things online, it’s a lot of work,” said Barbaro. “Faculty want to use technology, but faculty need more support and time to make sure that system is working effectively.”
The report shows that 34% of faculty said they struggled with having enough time to learn and implement new technologies into their classroom, and 15% of faculty said they do not receive enough or effective training.
The majority of faculty (about 86%) said they think about diversity, equity, and inclusion when selecting what EdTech to utilize in their classroom. Barbaro said that many students have expressed appreciation for the ability to rewatch in-class lectures with the aid of captioning, or the ability to take a class wherever and whenever to better fit with their schedules.
For schools like Arizona Western College (AWC) in Yuma, AZ, a community college and one of the institutions whose faculty was polled by CIN, EdTech has made the difference in lifting barriers for marginalized students.
Before COVID, AWC was a little “behind the times” with technology, particularly when it came to online instruction, said Carly Zufelt, associate dean of instructional development and student learning experience at AWC.
“About 80% of our students are only part-time because of work or income levels, so we really needed to jump start our access for those students in terms of online synchronous or asynchronous options,” said Zufelt. “We saw COVID was the catalyst to provide those options. I hate to say something good came from something so terrible, but we increased access and equity at large.”
AWC is a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), with 75% of its student population identifying as Latinx. Having more online learning and EdTech resources across their multiple campuses, including one in Parker, AZ on the northeast corner of the Colorado River Reservation, has been able to increase both their first-generation and Latinx student populations.
“Now, we’re trying to focus on faculty support, training, and ensuring faculty know how to best utilize those resources we know have access to,” said Zufelt.
AWC is looking for technology that makes distance education feel as immersive as face-to-face, like a voice activated camera that can follow the professor as they move about the classroom or focus on a student when they ask a question.
“We really want to capture as much nuance of the in-person experience as possible,” said Zufelt. “The survey shows that faculty prefer in-person instruction, and the students as well—but they will opt for online experiences due to other barriers. So, we try to ensure that online education feels close to face-to-face.”
Dr. Omid Fotuhi, director of learning innovation at WGU Labs, said that many institutions, whether traditional or online, are unsure of the new technologies available or are reluctant to be the first to try. That’s just one of the reasons CIN wants to connect more institutions with each other, so they can learn what has and hasn’t worked, and align their data while trying new technology.
“Both online and traditional institutions are aiming for the same goals: provide tools that promote belonging and engagement,” said Fotuhi. “At the end of the day, faculty, across all institutions, know that for learning to be effective, they have to be able to create tools to allow students to feel involved and engaged. When you think about [tech] solutions that last, they’re the ones that connect students to each other and faculty in a way that’s meaningful.”
Liann Herder can be reached at [email protected]