This article originally appeared in Distance Education Report.
An administrator’s day can be overrun with attending to pressing needs and putting out fires.
Have you ever had a day where you have worked incredibly hard and watched your “to-do” list grow instead of shrink? I know I have!
One danger of being so consumed with taking care of urgent requests from the Provost or averting a faculty revolt is that non-pressing, yet really important tasks – surveying your online students and faculty, for example – can keep getting shifted to the bottom of your “to-do” list. “I’ll prepare that survey tomorrow and hopefully send it out next week.” Oh the number of times I’ve said that.
But a survey or surveys like this are actually among the more important things you can do as an online administrator. Here are seven reasons why I would encourage you to move “surveying your online students and faculty” up your to-do list rather than down.
Knowing the demographics of students taking online courses on your campus could potentially help with strategic planning and online initiatives. For example, more juniors and seniors on my campus take online courses compared to freshmen and sophomores. Knowing this could help us determine if we might want to focus marketing efforts on a particular group of students.
Knowing student demographic information can help alleviate fears. For example, some faculty are fearful that online education is going to overtake their campus. At my campus, 75% of students have taken three or fewer online courses. No “takeover” is going to happen anytime soon.
Paying attention to the demographics of faculty who teach online (their discipline, their academic rank, if they are tenured, how many years they have been on campus, etc.) can potentially help determine where professional development funds and efforts might be targeted and be most effective.
Having an understanding of why students are taking online courses on your campus is important. Our students tell us that they take online courses for two primary reasons: the flexibility of the online offerings and to graduate sooner. Our online offerings do in-fact have a positive impact on graduation rates. The six-year graduation rate for students at my institution who take no online courses is about 60%, compared to a six-year graduation rate of about 90% for students who take one or more online courses. The same trend is seen in four-year graduation rates.
When we survey our online students, one question we routinely ask is if they want to see more online courses offered. About 85% say yes. We also ask students what courses they would like to see offered online. After we compile the list of requested online courses, that information is shared with our Office of Records and Registration as well as department chairs to help determine future online offerings.
I’ve always been a big fan of seeking student input to help guide course and program improvements. Approximately 90% of our online students report being satisfied with their online courses. However, we also ask students if they would share their thoughts and ideas on ways they believe their online courses could be improved. What we hear most frequently is that students want timely and targeted feedback from their instructors, more interactions with their instructors, and to take online courses that are well prepared and organized. We use this information to help plan workshops on these topics or to include in our online instructor training course.
If data is routinely being collected from your online students and faculty, there is a good chance it can be used to help prepare for regional accreditation reviews. Over the past 20 years, I’ve been through a half-dozen or so accreditation reviews. They are often stressful, as institutions many times have to scramble to collect data and evidence needed to show they are doing a good job. I’ve learned it is much easier to collate and organize the data you have than to start the process from the beginning. Another way to make accreditation reviews less painful is to be aware of the type of student and faculty data that your institution might need for the review and build that into your surveys. Most institutions have an accreditation task force or point person, often in the provost’s office, assessment office or in institutional research that you could contact for guidance and help.
Many individuals in higher education have research/scholarship expectations as part of their official duties and responsibilities. If you collect survey data on students and faculty at your institution, I would strongly encourage you to consider finding appropriate avenues to disseminate that information. It could be presentations at state, regional, national or international conferences that focus on online education. It could be writing up the survey results for submission and possible publication in peer-reviewed journals. This type of data can also be used as a basis for, or to strengthen, grant proposals. And if you are doing something that is working exceptionally well at your institution, publishing survey data is a great way to gain further benefit from the information you have available as a result of your online surveys.
Some common questions we ask our online faculty include whether or not they were satisfied with how their online course went, if they feel that adequate training and technical support were provided prior to and while they were teaching online, and if they have suggestions on topics they would like to see included in future trainings and workshops. Results can help guide future professional development offerings. And knowing why faculty are teaching online courses (to earn additional income, to have the ability to work from home, their department chair is forcing them to do it, they view it as a new challenge, etc.) can provide valuable insight and help you meet their needs, building and strengthening relationships along the way.
Creating surveys or analyzing data may not be particular strengths of yours. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Someone in your office of institutional research — or even a member of the faculty on your campus who conducts survey research and really likes it — would probably be excited to assist you.
If you are someone who likes to collect data, my advice would be to not collect data simply to collect it. Critically analyze the data you plan to collect and use it to monitor the satisfaction of your students and faculty, improve student access to online programming, and help with strategic planning. Use it to create professional development opportunities for the people on your campus. In many ways, the data you gather can be invaluable to the success of your online courses and programs.