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Report: 5 Ways to Deliver High-Quality, Equitable Digital Learning Experiences

A growing number of faculty are feeling positive about online learning at their institutions, according to a report from Every Learner Everywhere and Tyton Partners. The organizations recently surveyed more than 3,500 faculty at 1,500-plus higher education institutions across the United States about their challenges and concerns as they prepared their courses for the fall semester.

More than 90 percent of respondents are teaching at least one online or hybrid course this fall, and 60 percent have integrated new digital tools. And just 21 percent feel that online learning is not an effective method of instruction, down from 31 percent in May.

Still, the COVID-19 pandemic has widened equity and access gaps across higher education, the survey noted. Two-thirds of faculty respondents said they were concerned about equity among students at their institution, with many calling out "inadequate institutional responses to address equity gaps in a systemic way."

The report recommended five ways that institutions can ensure they are delivering high-quality digital learning experiences for all students:

Build on the momentum of the current moment to improve your approach to online and hybrid instruction. At four-year institutions, 45 percent of faculty surveyed said that their institutions are creating an ideal digital learning environment for the fall semester — a 13 percent jump since May and a 17 percent increase from before the COVID-19 pandemic. Optimism is even higher in two-year institutions: 57 percent of faculty there said their school is achieving an ideal environment, representing a 19 percent jump from May and a 23 percent jump from pre-COVID times. Institutions that take advantage of faculty members’ positive outlook and "move beyond band-aids to scaled approaches to delivering high-quality online learning via professional development, infrastructure, and assessment will be best positioned for a more digital future," the report asserted.

Evaluate the impact of digital learning on different student populations. "Equity remains a systemic and major concern for faculty as they plan instruction and rely on institution-wide support services and proactive advising models," the report said. Forty-six percent of faculty overall reported reduced enrollment at their institutions. What’s more, 63 percent of faculty at two-year institutions predicted a decline — "a concerning trend for the higher numbers of low-income and students of color that these institutions serve," the report pointed out, suggesting that "regular monitoring and analysis of both learning analytics and retention analytics are critical steps in identifying gaps and working to close them."

Provide faculty training on implementing digital tools and pedagogy effectively. According to the survey, faculty are looking for strategies for scaling student engagement and one-on-one interventions, as well as discipline-specific tactics, techniques and best practices.  

Make sure students have the tools and preparation needed to learn online. Faculty in the survey stressed that students "continue to need guidance and resources in order to be effective learners online." The report’s recommendation: "the development of consistent institutional approaches to course design and the use of common platforms and tools," as well as "direct-to-student training on time management, course expectations, and success strategies."

Assess your digital learning infrastructure and business model. "Transitioning to a future with more digital instruction requires transformation of existing business models, institutional policies, and practices," the report asserted. Consider the IT, instructional design and professional development that need to be in place in order to achieve the best student experience.

"We are seeing significant momentum and adoption of new digital tools and evidence-based online teaching practices as a result of the pandemic-driven shift to online learning," said Kristen Fox, director at Tyton Partners and lead report author, in a statement. "However, as a field, we need to make sure that we are designing courses and implementing tools in conjunction with institutional practices and policies that effectively reach all students and close gaps."

The full report is available on the Every Learner Everywhere and Tyton Partners sites.

About the Author

About the author: Rhea Kelly is executive editor for Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].

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