In the United States, higher learning instructors have had to adapt to online courses

·3-min read
72% of the teachers surveyed have adopted digital tools for the courses they teach.

University teachers have had to adapt, and sometimes even reinvent themselves, in order to give remote lessons over a long period of time. In the United States, one year after the start of the covid-19 pandemic, professors now view e-learning in a positive light. But the adaptation of distance learning courses has created more inequalities.

With the covid-19 pandemic and the necessity to give lessons from a distance, fundamental changes have been made in approaches to teaching and the development of pedagogical content. But in spite of the difficulties encountered, teaching staff's views of e-learning have evolved in a positive direction. At least that's the conclusion of the report " Time for Class Covid-19 Edition Part 3 : The Impact of 2020 on Introductory Faculty and Their Students " by the knowledge consulting firm Tyton Partners.

In the United States, teachers of introductory courses at universities mobilized during the summer to reorganize and adapt courses to e-learning. "This past fall, higher education faculty across the country, after having worked throughout the summer to rebuild and redesign courses, showed up to 'keep teaching' for their students, primarily in hybrid, highly-flexible and online courses," outlines the report published January 25, 2021.

By the third quarter, more than 90% were delivering online courses in a flexible manner, with 67% of the teachers teaching completely online and 24% operating in a "hybrid and extremely flexible" manner. Although the number of professors who went 100% online in the spring term was similar, half of them had never taught online before.

Evolution and adaptation of courses

Among the changes in course development, the 852 higher education instructors surveyed widely adopted the use of digital tools (72% of them) and updated learning objectives, activities and assessments (70% of them).

For example, Todd Burus, a lecturer in mathematics and statistics at the University of Eastern Kentucky, has had to change his examination procedures. He decided to create an exam in the form of a project and case studies to get around problems with the university's monitoring software. "They are comprehensive and force students to think through all the material in the course in an analytical way. Students submit the final product through SafeAssign in Blackboard, and the projects themselves are simulation-based, so the students receive random data, minimizing the chance of similarities between final results," outlines the Tyton Partners report.

Todd Burus even confided that "it worked very well" and that he would continue this method even with the return of face-to-face final exams.

Disengagement and inequalities

With the hindsight gained from the three reports on learning in the context of covid-19, Tyton Partners was able to identify the goals of faculty in this first year of the pandemic. During the spring semester, summer course preparation and fall 2020, the primary goal of faculty has been to maintain student engagement. Because in these introductory courses, the risk of dropping out is very high and screen-based learning could deepen the inequalities even further.

"High-enrollment introductory-level English, STEM, and other general education courses serve as gateways to degree paths but often function as gatekeepers: high failure rates in these gateway courses lead to significant dropout rates between the first and second year, and at disproportionately high numbers for poverty-affected and racially minoritized students," the report details.