Editors Note: Faculty participation in Distance Learning is, we feel, crucial in retaining a separate, sensitive and balanced educational structure. The alternative is the proliferation of parallel education entities, corporate universities, for profit k-12 learning systems, and non-authenticated certificate programs. This research provides clearer understanding of the dilemma within current, formal education.
Developing a new distance education program, or expanding an existing one, requires change or adopting an innovation. The change required is multidimensional in that established systems may need to change to support development and delivery of courses through distance technologies, including student support systems; faculty who participate need to change ways of teaching and adopt technology into their teaching and learning plans; and distance faculty and students need to change how they conceptualize their roles vis-à-vis the educational process. Unfortunately, change does not come easily.
Currently many institutions of higher education are moving toward, or expanding, distance education offerings. In order for distance education programs to succeed, faculty must be willing to participate. Alas, research indicates that many faculty resist participation in distance education (Olcott & Wright, 1995).
Rogers (1983) posited a theory of adopting an innovation, and put forth five factors that influence adopting an innovation:
Khan (1995) described ten obstacles to institutional change: "lack of time, fear of change, lack of communication with stakeholders, lack of shared community values supporting change, lack of shared decision-making skills, lack of understanding the vision of the future system, lack of understanding the innovation, lack of adequate information about the change, lack of outside facilitation, and lack of flexibility in state policies" (p43). Rogers' theory of innovation adoption and Khan's list of obstacles to change might be helpful in understanding why faculty resist participation in distance education.
Wanting to understand the level of adoption of instructional technology to teaching activities at one Research I, urban, state-related university in the U.S. Northeast, a survey was conducted to determine use of technology in teaching and learning activities, motivating and inhibiting factors for participating in distance education, and attitudes toward policies on distance education, as expressed by faculty (distance education participators and non-participators) and administrators. This paper will present the motivating and inhibiting factors.
With permission from the author of a survey (Betts, personal communication, 1998), this study used a modified version of a survey developed to identify factors that influence faculty participation in distance education (Betts, 1998). Minor modifications were made to address the specific institution for this study, including names of schools and colleges within the university. The survey was distributed in spring 1999 to all full-time faculty and twenty-five senior administrators, including all deans. After accounting for faculty on leave (paid or unpaid) from the university, the target faculty population totaled 1312. A total of 263 completed and usable surveys were returned for a response rate of 20%, which could limit the external validity of the results. A total of eleven administrators returned the survey for a 44% response rate; however, only nine completed the sections on motivating and inhibiting factors. The data was analyzed using SPSS-PC. First, the 29 motivating and 17 inhibiting factors were ranked according to mean scores and then a factor analysis was used on all 46 factors to see how the factors grouped.
One hundred and sixty-eight (63.9%) of the faculty respondents were male, while 94 (35.7%) were female. Twenty respondents (7.6%) were under 30 years of age, 117 (44.5%) were 30-45 years of age, 90 (34.2%) were 45-60 years of age, and 35 (13.3%) were over 60 years old. One hundred and twenty-six (47.9%) respondents were full professors, 74 (28.1%) were associate professors, 47 (17.9%) were assistant professors, and 16 (6.1%) were instructors. Two hundred and sixty respondents were full time faculty. While the survey was sent to full-time faculty, two respondents indicated they were part-time faculty and one person did not answer this item. One hundred and eighty-six (70.7%) were tenured, and 74 (28.3%) indicated they were not tenured. Of the 74 non-tenured faculty, 28 (37.8%) were on tenure track, 36 (48.6%) were not on tenure track, and 10 (13.5%) did not indicate tenure track status. Thirty eight (14.4%) faculty indicated they participated in distance education. For the purpose of this study, this group is called "participators" and those who did not indicated participating in distance education are called "non-participators."
A total of eleven administrators returned the self-study survey. Six were deans, two vice presidents, one vice provost, one associate dean, and one acting assistant dean. Of the eleven, only nine completed all the sections including the ones on motivating and inhibiting factors.
Faculty and administrators were asked to rate from 5 to 1 (5 = strongly agree; 1 = strongly disagree) to what extent they believed 29 factors had or would motivate faculty to participate in distance education. The results are presented based on mean scores. The top five motivating factors for "participants" were:
Personal motivation to use technology
Table 1 contains the ranking of all 29 motivating factors by participating faculty.
For "non-participants," the top five motivating factors for faculty to participate in distance education were:
Table 2 contains the ranking of all 29 motivating factors for non-participating faculty.
The top five motivating factors for faculty, according to administrators, were:
Table 3 contains the ranking of all 29 motivating factors for administrators.
A comparison of the three sets of responses indicates agreement on "personal motivation to use technology" as a strong motivator for faculty to participate in distance education, with participating faculty and administrators in complete agreement. Clearly, distance faculty must feel comfortable and want to work with technology regularly. Faculty who are less so will naturally shy away from distance teaching.
The faculty and administrators were asked to rate from 5 to 1 (5 = strongly agree; 1 = strongly disagree) to what extent they believed 17 factors had or would inhibit faculty from participating in distance education. The results are presented based on mean scores. The top five inhibiting factors for participators in distance education were:
Table 4 contains the ranking of all 17 inhibiting factors by participating faculty.
The top five inhibiting factors for non-participating faculty were:
Table 5 contains the ranking of all 17 inhibiting factors by non-participating faculty.
The top five inhibiting factors for faculty, according to administrators, were:
Table 6 contains the ranking of all 17 inhibiting factors by administrators.
In comparing the three sets of responses, there was complete agreement on the number one inhibitor, and similar ratings for four other inhibiting factors. Given that a distance program depends on reliable technology, inadequate technical support for a distance program provided by the institution, or even a perception that this is so, will cause faculty be less likely to participate.
A factor analysis of all 46 factors (motivating and inhibiting) rendered four distinct scales.
Scale 1 was labeled "Intrinsic motives" and had an Alpha coefficient of .9123. The following factors grouped into this scale in the order presented:
Scale 2 is labeled "Personal needs" and has an Alpha coefficient of .8956. The following items grouped into "personal needs":
Scale 3 is labeled "Inhibitors" and has an Alpha coefficient of .8878. The following items grouped into "inhibitors":
Scale 4 is labeled "Extrinsic motives" and has an Alpha coefficient of .8440. The following items grouped into "extrinsic motives":
The natural development of these four scale is interesting, especially in the order in which they loaded. The strongest scale relates to factors that can be seen as intrinsic factors, ones that come from within the individual and benefit the program or students (e.g., "improve teaching," "greater flexibility for the students"). The second scale includes factors that are related to personal faculty needs or gains for participating (e.g., "lack of / credit toward promotion and tenure," "merit pay," "reduced teaching load," "job security"). While these factors do originate within and benefit the individual, they cannot be seen as benefiting the program or students. The third scale is comprised totally of the inhibiting factors, less the one relating to promotion and tenure that loaded into the "personal needs" scale. And lastly, scale 4 includes all the factors relating to university administration support and encouragement to faculty to participate, or issues extrinsic to the faculty, program and students.
Using the scales as a template, the rating of the 29 motivating factors by the faculty, participating and non-participating, and administrators were re-reviewed. The participating faculty rated highest only factors that loaded into Scale 1, intrinsic motives. The non-participating faculty rated 4 out of the top five factors that loaded into Scale 1, but also rated second a factor that loaded into Scale 4 extrinsic motives. What is more interesting is that the administrators, while rating highly two factors from Scale 1, rated three factors from Scale 2, personal needs, as highly motivating for faculty. The specific factors, rated totally differently from the faculty, related to monetary support, credit toward promotion and tenure, and release time. It would appear that the administrators who responded to this survey believed that faculty more motivated by things they could get by participating in distance education efforts (e.g., more money, personal credit, and reduced load) than factors that might be more beneficial to the program and students (e.g., developing or diversifying ideas, improving teaching, and flexibility for students).
The respondents for this survey agreed almost completely on what would inhibit faculty from participating in distance education programs. The two faculty groups were close to agreement on motivating factors; and while the administrators agreed with the faculty on the top one motivating factor, administrators tended to rate personal needs as stronger motivators for faculty than intrinsic motives.
Using Rogers' theory of adapting an innovation, faculty skepticism about moving into distance education can be easily understood, as can the major inhibiting factor. Basic classrooms are not typically dependent upon technology other than the lights and the presence of chalk or markers to write on the board. When technology is added, whether it be an overhead projector, computer with projector, or Internet connection for use with a laptop computer, faculty are suddenly dependent upon technicians to make sure it all works. If the technology support is lacking, or not up to the level of expectation, the infusion of technology into the classroom will be slow. The same is true about online teaching where the instructor cannot revert back to traditional teaching methods since the instructor and students are not in the same room, and possibly in different states or countries. Similarly, if the technology, in this case distance education teaching methods, is not simple and easy to understand and cannot be tested out or viewed in advance, faculty will be more likely to question the quality of courses, workload implications, time and resources needed to develop a quality distance course.
Looking at Khan's ten obstacles to institutional change, in this case distance education, there are similarities to the responses to the survey. Lack of time was clearly noted when all three groups identified lack of release time as a major inhibitor to participation. Lack of communication, and perhaps lack of understanding, is evident through the differences between responses by administrators and faculty on what would motivate faculty to participate.
Differences exist between the perceptions of faculty and administrators on why faculty participate or not in distance education. Understanding these differences might go a long way toward helping institutions of higher education successfully develop distance programs. At the same time, understanding what truly motivates faculty to participate in distance education could help administrators in encouraging faculty who have stronger intrinsic motives over personal needs. While it is obvious that eliminating inhibiting factors will facilitate faculty participation in distance education, such efforts will not be fruitful without building upon the intrinsic motivating factors.
Betts, K (1998). Factors influencing faculty participation in distance education in postsecondary education in the United States: An institutional study. Dissertation Abstracts International: UMI No. 9900013.
Betts, K (1998). Personal communication, November 1998.
Khan, BH (1995). Obstacles encountered during stages of the educational change process. Educational Technology, March-April: 43-46.
Olcott, D and Wright, SJ (1995). An institutional support framework for increasing faculty participation in postsecondary distance education. The American Journal of Distance Education, 9(2): 5-17.
Rogers, EM (1983). Diffusion of Innovations. New York: The Free Press.
About the Author: Catherine C. Schifter Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Curriculum, Instruction and Technology in Education at the College of Education, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122. She can be contacted by email at: email@example.com