One in five academics not confident with delivering teaching online, major survey finds

A survey by the Office for Students in November suggests that digital exclusion remains a stubborn problem – with around a third of students lacking good internet access

One in five university teaching staff are not confident in designing and delivering online teaching, a new survey by the Office for Students suggests – and nearly half are not keen to teach online in the long-term. 

The survey results have been published today in a new report, billed by the OfS as a “major review” of online teaching and learning in HE in England. 

The survey also found that students are broadly content with the quality of the teaching and learning they have received during the pandemic – although a significant minority lacked good internet access, the right hardware and adequate space to study.

Teaching staff survey results

An OfS-commissioned YouGov poll of nearly 550 academics found that 21% were ‘very confident’ they could design and deliver digital teaching during the pandemic – 59% said they were ‘fairly’ confident, and 18% reported feeling unconfident. 

Sir Michael Barber, who chairs the OfS and led the review, told journalists yesterday universities must “increase training and support for academic staff to make the most of these digital opportunities”. He added that UK HE sector global competitiveness relied on institutions mastering this “emerging field”.  

The survey also suggests that 53% of teaching staff in HE are concerned about the risks of digital tools; in comparison, 37% had no concerns. The survey does not disaggregate the underlying reasons for these anxieties, but the report suggests that staff have ongoing concerns about data privacy and intellectual property rights. These misgivings may also relate to the historic level of training, experience and support offered by institutions. The survey suggests 36% could not access technical support to teach online during the pandemic, 27% did not feel supported, and 47% had never taught online before. Only 23% reported teaching online more than once a month before the pandemic. 

As a result, the lecturers surveyed appear divided on whether they wanted to continue teaching online long-term: 52% were in favour, 48% were not. 

The results suggest 56% are eager to return to in-person teaching as soon as possible, compared to 34% who are not. The area where staff were most positive is in accessibility and opportunities for new ways of working: 70% felt online teaching offered “new and exciting” ways to do their jobs in the future. Those areas considered ripe for long-term online delivery by teaching staff were one-to-ones with students (51%), engagement with colleagues (45%) and lectures (41%).

Student views

The YouGov survey shows that – despite a series of high-profile tuition fee refunds petitions – students were, on the whole, satisfied with the teaching offered during the pandemic. 

At the time of the survey (18 November to 2 December), 92% of students were learning wholly or mostly online. More than half (56%) felt teaching was better than or in line with what their university or college said they would receive, but a third (32%) reported the opposite. A significant majority (67%) were content with the teaching received – versus 29% who were not.

A substantial minority (48%) of students – and the majority of postgraduates – said they were not asked to provide feedback on their digital teaching. 

Digital exclusion was still a stubborn issue at the end of last year; according to the survey, 15% lacked the right hardware, 30% lacked good internet access, 24% had no technical support and 30% did not have the space to study.

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After their experiences with examinations during the pandemic, students appear content for long-term change: 28% of students want to go back to exclusively in-person assessments once the pandemic is over – but 32% would prefer online tests, and 28% would prefer a combination of the two. 

“There is no doubt that redesigning pedagogy, curriculum and assessment is crucial as the UK moves towards a more inclusive and positive post-pandemic student experience”– Dr Paul Feldman, Jisc

Sir Michael’s review team warned that exam changes should not “bake in” grade inflation. Evidence submitted to the OfS team suggests many students have data privacy concerns about online proctoring tools. This software also hampered some assessments because of internet usage demands. 

Separate surveys by Cambridge and Sheffield universities – contributed in evidence to the OfS review – found that disabled students preferred online assessments to in-person assessments. 

Post-pandemic, students want to return to traditional forms of learning, the survey suggests. A small proportion wants to continue one-to-one sessions (26%) and seminars (25%) online. The polling implies most students feel prepared to engage with online material, but a significant majority (42%) and a small minority (10%) report feeling either somewhat confident or not confident in this regard. The OfS recommends universities do more during the recruitment stage to explain to students the digital skills they need to learn online. 

The review is explicitly neither “regulatory guidance or advice”, the OfS said, but stated that “delivering on digital access is likely to be an important part of meeting ambitions to improve access and participation from disadvantaged backgrounds”. 

Since the outset of the pandemic, and in response to student petitions for tuition fee refunds, MPs have quizzed the OfS on how it will maintain online teaching and learning standards. Asked if the OfS would use the review to underpin new high-level regulation on online teaching standards, Sir Michael said the OfS consultation on standards and quality – which closed evidence gathering on 26 January – was “bound to get into the issues”.  

Recommendations 

  • Assess students’ digital access on a one-to-one basis and remove any barriers before learning is lost
  • Communicate to new and returning students what digital skills they will need to engage with the course
  • Involve the student voice in teaching and learning design
  • Equip staff with the right skills and resources to teach effectively
  • Make the digital environment safe for all students
  • Plan how you will seize the opportunity presented by digital teaching and learning in the longer-term

Dr Paul Feldman, chief executive of Jisc, an education and technology not-for-profit that is part-funded by the OfS, said the organisation was “committed to seeing the recommendations of this review of digital education realised”.

“There is no doubt that redesigning pedagogy, curriculum and assessment is crucial as the UK moves towards a more inclusive and positive post-pandemic student experience,” he said.


Read more here: Businesses’ responsibility to higher education: scholarships for local communities


 

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