The study of teaching and learning, including online instructional methods, must be part of every doctoral program, argue Judith Altschuler Cahn, James R. Stellar and Suzanne Brooks.
Since COVID-19 forced a pivot to online learning, much of the finger pointing about a disruption in education has been aimed at technology. But while online teaching and learning may be extraordinarily challenging for younger students, we suggest an all too often overlooked variable caused the immense challenges experienced in higher education: professors are not taught how to teach.
Recent reports in the media declare that online learning isn’t working. However, prior to the pandemic, in 2012, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology found online learning produced outcomes that were equal to or more effective than traditional, face-to-face instruction. In fact, according to the 2018 Babson Survey Research Group Report, enrollment in distance education consistently increased at a time when overall higher education enrollment declined. Furthermore, certain student or faculty characteristics or content may be more suitable to online learning. For example, students who are shy or who have familial responsibilities that impact their ability to attend class in person may do better learning online.
Several factors may contribute to the recent outcry against online instruction, including students’ needs for socialization, quarantine environments that are not conducive to studying, inadequate or mismatched instructional design, and a lack of instructor presence and teacher immediacy behaviors that build bridges and a sense of closeness between students and teachers.
Perhaps, however, it has been the COVID-19 pandemic that has revealed gaping problems in the very systems and practices that are ingrained in higher education. The most glaring issue may be the limited opportunities faculty have to learn about education and effective pedagogy, gain teaching experience, and understand how students learn—both during doctoral studies and once appointed to a faculty position. In particular, many faculty members were thrust into online teaching during the pandemic with minimal or no prior professional development in online instructional design, perhaps explaining current anecdotes that tout its failings.