Administrative Perceptions and Approaches to Online LearningShaun Curran | Professor, Liberty University
As higher education institutions continue to shift away from traditional face-to-face classrooms in favor of more online offerings, administrators in charge of overseeing these digital classrooms are increasingly finding their hands tied. Administrators have raised numerous concerns about education offered online. The majority of these concerns focus on three areas: the quality of online instruction and student assignment submissions, the ability to accurately evaluate online classes and the amount of interactive technology found in these courses. While administrators’ concerns are legitimate, they stand in the way of further development of online courses and departments.
Administrators acknowledge that students enjoy the convenience of online classes, but are concerned about the quality of online instruction. There are many instructors who believe they can teach online courses the same way they would teach a comparable class on campus. In one poll, more than 88 percent of administrators who said they were in favor of online classes also stated they felt in-class classes were better. Going further, a growing body of evidence points to high learning curves associated with online learning that leaves many instructors, as well as students, apprehensive about signing up to teach or take online classes. Instructors, specifically, voice concerns about the difficulty in navigating the learning management systems that are often the platform for online classes. If instructors are concerned about the learning curve associated with the online learning platforms, then administrators should be as well, because if the high learning curve in the online classroom is negatively impacting instructors’ performance, students may stop taking online classes, signifying to the college community that online courses at the institution do not work.
There are those who believe online education is eroding the traditional values of education. There have been numerous reports of cheating and plagiarism in online classes; the anonymity of online classes makes it nearly impossible to ensure the individual doing the work for courses are actually registered in them. The larger concern among administrators, however, is the fact that effective evaluation is almost impossible in these online classrooms.The relative ease with which numerous students can be incorporated under one instructor means the instructor is often not as focused on individual students. Also, the number of organizations setting up online assignments that are completely automated – meaning they can be automatically graded by the system instead of an instructor – translates into a reduced need for competent instructors. As a result, the course cannot really be effectively evaluated, and neither can the instructor.
There are a number of solutions administrators can put into place to assist instructors, students and the institution with creating high-quality online courses, effective evaluations and better student performance. The first is to hire instructional designers who, coupled with department heads and online staff, can work together to develop online courses that better reflect the organization’s mission statement and do not have a high learning curve that could get in the way of the student’s education. Likewise, having instructors develop assignments that promote critical thinking and reduce the student’s ability to copy and paste information from the Internet will relieve administrative concerns of plagiarism.
In addition, administrators need to be supervising instructors and ensuring the instructor is using a wide variety of assignments that reflect students’ different learning styles. Simply putting information online for students to read is not an effective teaching method. At one time, this may have been the only way online courses could be conducted. Today, however, with the development of more interactive forms of technology such as YouTube and online forums, instructors have the potential to help their students thrive. To keep their institution at the cutting edge of online course development, administrators need to ensure their instructors are using these technologies in ways that reach out to online students to ensure a satisfied student populace.
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Author Perspective: Educator