A new report on faculty attitudes regarding technology is out from the Babson Survey Research Group and Inside Higher Ed — a follow-up to the report they released in earlier this summer (and I reviewed in a blog entry back then). Both reports mine the same survey, so the information here is not new, just more granular. And while the former report’s title, “Conflicted,” captures the mixed feelings faculty have (and especially the different responses different members of this very diverse group have to a number of different technology-related issues), this report’s title flatly declares them “Digital Faculty.” Is that a fair description? Not yet.

Titles, of course, can only say so much, and the report itself details some telling points of conflict and divergence. Accentuating the positive, the overview in Inside Higher Ed says, “In general, professors are pro-digital.” But the devil is in the details, and even in some of the broad strokes. Faculty are more fearful than excited about the growth of online education generally; ditto the growth of online outlets for scholarship. What’s more, this report breaks out gender differences, and it shows that women report doing more online but also feeling more stress. Cathy Ann Trower, director of the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education at Harvard University, says this makes sense, that “women often feel more compelled to be immediately responsive to students and colleagues than men do.”

Trower’s take provides an interesting angle on the results: if faculty are in fact “digital faculty,” it may be more a reluctant acceptance of change than an enthusiastic embrace. The survey’s key strategy — to ask whether faculty are fearful or excited about different uses and manifestations of technology (and to insist on a choice of one or the other) — does not allow us to know about gradations of feeling. We can only infer, as Trower did.

Some things the survey results do make clear. Since the survey was done of administrators as well as faculty, we can see these two groups seem to see things differently. Administrators consistently overestimate faculty use of technology, particularly the use of any learning management system (LMS).  As I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, co-directors of the Babson Survey Research Group, note, “Administrators perceive a much higher degree of faculty use of LMS systems for every dimension than faculty actually report.”

On the other hand, many of the results do justify the “pro-digital” claim. While faculty are more fearful than excited about the growth of online education, more than 70% are more excited than fearful about the growth of hybrid or blended instruction, and almost that many feel that way about the “flipped classroom” — the use of technology to offer instructional content so that instructors can spend less class time lecturing and more time interacting with students. Most also feel positive about the growth of online educational resources (OER), as they do about the growing use of OER and e-textbooks to replace traditional textbooks.

Still, the results of the survey, mined more thoroughly in “Digital Faculty” report, underscore the ambivalence of the report titled “Conflicted.” Part of it could be that faculty, if they are “digital faculty,” may feel themselves more defined that way than defining themselves that way. (Issues of agency, like gradations of feeling, are not easily gleaned from the survey results.) And uncertainty as well as ambivalence has to be a part of any thoughtful response to change. The sentence in the Inside Higher Ed article that really struck me as this one: “Asked for their gut reaction to the emergence of ‘outlets for scholarship that do not use a traditional peer-review model,’ 64 percent of professors said it mostly filled them with fear.” If “fear” is the right word there, it would be mostly fear of the unknown or at least unsettled, and that will be with us for a while.




  1. A. Salts Says:

    Great article! I think that a blended approach to some online programs would be a great idea. Since people learn differently, by blending the programs can cover a wide range of delivery channels.

    I think this would be a great idea for science based courses requiring a lab.


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