Monday, April 12, 2021

Online learning with well trained teachers can replace face-to-face

Professor Andrew Norton
Professor Andrew Norton, in  Online learning will never be a substitute for face-to-face, points out that Australian university student satisfaction hit its lowest point last year. He argues this was, understandably, due to students not having contact with each other and suggests a return to campus. However, if that is not possible, well trained teachers, using the right techniques, can produce a successful satisfying online student experience. Not providing that places the future of Australian higher education at risk.

Not surprisingly, as Professor Norton points out, it was on-campus students who had the largest decrease in satisfaction from 2019 to 2020. Results come from the  Student Experience Survey (SES) for undergraduates. 

Professor Norton argues that "A return to on-campus teaching is the obvious way to lift face-to-face contact between students.". However,  I suggest the students need contact with others students, not necessarily on a campus. and not necessarily in person. The instructor can help facilitate this, but that can be done online, if need be. 

A return to on-campus teaching is not necessarily the best way to promote student interaction. Universities can put in place resources, forums and activities for students to meet and interact online. Universities can also train their teaching staff online, to learn to teach online, preferably by experiencing being a student online

Professor Norton commented that "... it is hard to predict what campus life will look like in two or three years time.". I disagree: it is very easy to predict what higher education will be like. A few years ago I predicted that the typical student will be studying online by 2020. My rule of thumb is that the typical student needs to be in a classroom, or a relevant workplace, for 20% of their study, with the rest online. I have no doubt that is going to happen, the difficult part is ensuring Australian universities are part of that future. 

Unless our universities invest in training and support for educators in online learning, and offer students flexible programs which given them the option of studying online, the students, both domestic and international, will take their business elsewhere, offshore, to other providers.

There are other shocks to the Australian economy and education system which could happen, without warning, in the next few years. Individual academics, and institutions, need to be ready for them.

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