Attitude Is Everything: Faculty Attitude Can Dictate the Success or Failure of an Online Program

Article excerpt

In the past 10 years, college and university administrators have been embracing online learning as the next logical step in higher education, but not all faculty have been on board. Studies conducted by the Sloan Consortium, an association that promotes online learning, suggest that faculty attitudes have become a barrier to successful online programs.

After discovering that faculty attitudes were closely connected to the success or failure of an online program, the Sloan Consortium, known as Sloan-C, took action. It teamed up with the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges to form the NASULGC-Sloan National Commission on Online Learning and encourage dialogue among chief academic officers on the potential applications of online education.

"We started the project in spring 2007," says commission project director Bob Samors. "The best we could do was figure out what the key factors [to a successful online program] were, and, thinking it through, the best way to do that was to talk to people."

The commission's most recent undertaking is a first-of-its-kind cross-institutional survey of faculty attitudes and concerns with online education programs. This benchmarking study was borne out of another study, the "Key Factors Underlying Strategic Online Learning Programs," that found faculty attitudes had become a barrier to successful programs. Researchers have conducted more than 200 faculty interviews and received more than 10,000 answered surveys from 45 institutions. Although the results are still being analyzed, the commission recently released its preliminary findings.

"What we see in the faculty survey mirrors the same thing when we looked at institutional factors," says Jeff Seaman, survey director for Sloan-C and consultant to the commission. "The more experienced institutions [with programs] were more positive about it." The institutional factors for successful online learning included leadership from senior administration members, accessibility to resources and the need for an online coordinator, to name a few.

According to the 2007 Sloan-C study, "Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning," 62.1 percent of chief academic officers at institutions with the most developed online education programs agree that faculty at their school accept and value the legitimacy of online education. That percentage plummets to 3.7 percent among officers at institutions that are "not interested" in online learning.

There are no numbers to explain whether enthusiastic administrators create effective online programs, or if effective online programs breed acceptance and optimism among faculty. The number of faculty teaching online at the surveyed institutions has also yet to be calculated. It is clear, however, that those who do teach online run the gamut of educators--from tenured professors who want a little extra pay, to young doctoral candidates who find it convenient.

Tammy Vaught fails into the latter category. She currently teaches "Technology Tools for Learning" at Clemson University, while completing a dissertation on educational leadership through technology. …