A Cross-Sectional Study to Describe Academics’ Confidence, Attitudes, and Experience of Online Distance Learning in Higher Education
Previous research, mainly from North America and Asia, has highlighted how many academics in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are concerned about the academic integrity of online distance learning (ODL) compared with face-to-face-teaching and its impact on their work and the student learning experience. Far less is known about this topic for HEIs in the UK, which historically has been slow to adopt technology-enhanced learning overall. The aim of the current study was to determine the attitudes to and experiences of ODL amongst academics in a UK HEI from their own perspective, their students, and that of external stakeholders. The study was based in a long-established HEI in the north of England, UK. Data were collected using an anonymous, self-completion electronic questionnaire which was distributed to academics across the institution. The survey was completed by 531 academics from four of the different faculties. Most of the responders were confident using standard learning management systems for their online teaching, but few were using tools such as social media and web conferencing to engage with students. At least a third of responders expressed positive attitudes to ODL, both from their own and their students’ perspectives, and they believed ODL was necessary to maintain student numbers in the future. Those not already doing so also expressed an interest in starting to teach on an ODL. However, not all academics supported ODL, and additional concerns extended to the perceptions of employers, professional organisations, and other countries towards this type of education. The attitudes and experiences of academics in a UK HEI towards ODL varied across a range of teaching-related topics. The results confirm that some academics are confident using online technology for teaching purposes and that they identify with benefits for their students’ learning experience. A large proportion wanted to increase their involvement with ODL, and some believed that their faculty needed to increase the ODL provision to maintain the current number of registered students. There was a suggestion that an important number of employers, professional organisations, and even some countries did not believe qualifications awarded through ODL were at least equivalent to those from face-to-face teaching. Consequently, if the HEI is seeking to increase its ODL provision, then there could be benefits from showcasing examples of good practice to academics from within and outside of the HEI. This needs to coincide with demonstrating the effectiveness of ODL, as compared with face-to-face provision from the student, academic, and faculty perspective. Furthermore, this needs to be communicated to students’ prospective future employers.