Students flocking online, but will faculty follow?

At my university, distance education enrolments have increased by more than 13% in the past year

Online instruction in post-secondary education has equally fervent supporters and detractors. A few semesters back, Academic Matters devoted an entire issue to examining The Ivory Tower in Cyberspace and the unfulfilled promises of educational technologies and e-learning.

At my university, distance education enrolments, a great many of them in online courses, have increased by more than 13% in just the past year alone. The university and provincial Department of Education’s continuing investments in distance education are part of an overall strategy to stabilize enrolment levels, and perhaps grow them, in the face of Newfoundland and Labrador’s declining high school population. However, as in other institutions, the primary driver of the virtualization of education here appears to be the robust, student-driven demand for it.

And faculty, well, today’s Inside Higher Ed takes a look at the place of faculty in virtual higher education:

The current model of higher education was several centuries in the making. That leaves colleges adapting to online learning, a viable option for only about a decade, with a monumental game of catch-up.

As online courses’ popularity continues to rise, many administrators are struggling with a steep learning curve, one whose ultimate end point is far from being determined. Questions such as how such courses should be taught (by adjuncts or full-time faculty?) often depend on institutions’ missions (expand access or generate extra revenue?) and can lead to clashes and tensions between proponents of online learning and those who remain wedded to the traditional classroom.

But it’s often the existing campus faculty that administrators rely on to develop and teach online courses, a reality that informs their approaches to determining who should teach the courses and how they should be compensated. In many cases, the models are relics of outdated distance programs that gradually became the basis for courses offered over the Internet. No two models are exactly alike, but as colleges experiment with ways to keep their faculty happy and their courses high in quality, evidence of some common practices is emerging.