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Online Teaching in an Online World
Curtis J. Bonk
Welcome to the first of a series of research reports
and survey results related to the use of the Internet in teaching and
learning. This initial report addresses the use of the Internet by postsecondary
instructors. We conducted this survey in response to the proliferation
of college instructors using the Web as a resource in their teaching.
Instead of randomly surveying college instructors about their Web-based
teaching needs, experiences, and support mechanisms, this study targeted
those with some experience in using the Web as a teaching and learning
resource. More specifically, this sample was selected from instructors
who had at least shared an online version of a syllabus, posted an instructor
profile, or reviewed and critiqued online resources on the Web.
The objective of this research was to learn about the
common obstacles, supports, and experiences as well as the tools used
among early adopters of the Web as a teaching resource. The findings indicate
that many college instructors already have extensive online teaching experience.
In fact, the participants in our sample have some strong opinions and
suggestions for college administrators and courseware developers.
Whereas most studies simply ask about online experience,
time investments, and common complaints, this study attempts to understand
some of the pedagogical tools and mechanisms that could benefit college
faculty today as well as 5-10 years from now. For instance, what is missing
from current Web-based learning courseware from an experienced user's
point of view? How can we move from courseware that simply warehouses
or registers students to tools that engage them in interactive and collaborative
events and experiences? And how can college faculty share their online
learning successes and failures with other instructors and experts in
Still more questions confront instructors. For instance,
what training and reward structures need to be in place to foster successful
online teaching and learning experiences? Who is making the decisions
about which Web-based teaching tools to acquire? What type of support
mechanisms should decision makers provide for online instructors? And
do such decisions and supports mechanisms vary between public and private,
or large and more modest-sized, institutions?
The results of this survey begin to answer many of
the above questions. For instance, early adopters of the Web for teaching
seem willing to share course resources, consult the Web for expert teaching
answers, and offer their instructional services to others. While these
post-secondary instructors employ a wide range of tools and tasks in their
online teaching, they point to a myriad of pedagogical tools that are
not yet available. As a result, they are suspicious of the motives of
administrators promoting Web-based education without the appropriate technical
or pedagogical support.
Even though most of these college instructors voluntarily
share course information and resources online, they caution that Web-based
teaching efforts will require additional time and compensation for online
instruction to become a more widely accepted practice. Institutional positions
regarding ownership of course material is one issue that remains unresolved
according to our study participants. The development and sharing of course
material and ideas online will certainly be limited until universities
clarify their policies (Goldberg, 2000).
Description of Survey Respondents
- Sixty-four percent of our sample were drawn from instructors using
the MERLOT Web site (see http://www.MERLOT.org). Another 36 percent
were from the World Lecture Hall (WLH) Web site (see http://www.utexas.edu/world/lecture).
Type and Size of Respondent Institution
- Over two-thirds of our respondents were from public institutions (19
percent from 2-year and 51 percent from 4-year institutions). Only 21
percent were from private institutions (1 percent from 2-year private
and 20 percent from 4-year private institutions). Nine percent were
from other types of instructional situations or were not specific about
the type of public or private institution they were in.
- Most of our sample worked at large institutions (54 percent) followed
by medium-sized (26 percent) and small (20 percent) institutions.
Years of College Teaching Experience
- The teaching experience of our respondents was mixed with 36 percent
having more than 20 years of experience, 34 percent with 10-20 years
of teaching experience, and only 10 percent with fewer than 4 years
Respondent's Age, Gender, Rank, and Educational
- Most respondents were established instructors with extensive educational
backgrounds. Nearly half of the instructors in this study were over
50 years old. Another 44 percent were between 36 and 50 years old.
- Sixty percent were males.
- Most were ranked at the professor or associate professor level (60
percent), while another 17 percent were assistant professors, 8 percent
were adjuncts, and 5 percent were lecturers. The remaining 10 percent
were in other categories such as learning center directors, instructional
designers, or administrators, most of whom had some teaching responsibilities.
- Nearly 70 percent had a doctoral degree and 6 percent were ABD. The
highest degree level for the remaining participants was a master's degree
(22 percent) or a BA (2 percent).
Level of Courses Taught
- Surprisingly, nearly all of the respondents had undergraduate teaching
experience (95 percent), while 62 percent had taught at the graduate
level and 40 percent had experience teaching non-credit and other types
of workshops, programs, or courses.
Participation in Online Course Sharing
When and How Did They Discover Sharing Resources?
- More than half of the respondents first posted to MERLOT or the World
Lecture Hall within the past year, indicating that sharing resources
online is a recent trend among college instructors.
- Most discovered these course-sharing resources through Internet links
(39 percent), colleagues (27 percent), or institutional announcements
Why Did They Share?
- Nearly half (45 percent) of the respondents shared Web resources as
a means of professional growth. Many posted to the Web to share pedagogical
theories or strategies with their colleagues (38 percent). More than
half believed in the importance of course sharing.
Type and Number of Resulting Contacts
- Many respondents had been contacted as a result of sharing resources
online. Of these, most contacts were from students (30 percent) and
instructors (32 percent). Some, however, had been contacted by publishers
(14 percent) and other companies or institutions (12 percent).
- Many of these instructors had more than 10 student contacts as a result
of posting Web resources or information online.
- More than 90 percent of the respondents indicated that they welcomed
comments from colleagues on their online syllabi and other resources.
Course Material Ownership
- Extremely few respondents (i.e., 16 percent) felt that online courses
were the property of their institution.
- Sixty-three percent of respondents indicated that their institution
did not have clear ownership policies, and another 21 percent responded
that they were unsure about ownership policies at their institution.
- Despite this lack of clarity, only 3 percent of these college instructors
do not plan to abide by the ownership guidelines of their institution.
Quality and Accreditation
- There were mixed reactions regarding whether learning is improved
in online environments with 32 percent agreeing that it is, 29 percent
disagreeing, and 40 percent unsure.
- More instructors were supportive of bachelor and master's degrees
earned entirely online (44 and 45 percent, respectively) than doctoral
degrees (19 percent). In fact, sixty-two percent were opposed to doctoral
degrees earned entirely online.
- Eighty percent believed that accreditation for online distance education
was necessary for high course quality.
Instructor Compensation for Online Teaching?
- The preferred mode of compensation for online teaching for these college
instructors was additional salary (34 percent). Some instructors preferred
nondiscretionary stipends (14 percent), course royalties (15 percent),
release time (10 percent), or recognition (4 percent).
- Twenty percent believed that there should be no additional compensation
for teaching online compared to traditional classroom teaching.
Online Teaching Experience
- When asked about their experience with different forms of online instruction,
nearly 40 percent of the respondents had taught courses partially online;
18 percent had taught courses fully online (i.e., without any face-to-face
contact between students and instructors); and 19 percent of the respondents
had done both partial and completely online courses. Only 24 percent
had no online teaching experience.
- In terms of overall experience, survey respondents with online teaching
experience had taught an average of 4 to 7 courses either partially
or fully online; those with both partial and fully online experience
had, on average, close to 7 such teaching experiences.
Instructor's Web-Related Skills
- Respondents had a high degree of comfort sending and receiving file
attachments via e-mail (93 percent) and creating HTML pages (62 percent).
- Fewer than half of the respondents were highly comfortable using a
Web-based courseware system (48 system), moderating a Web-based asynchronous
discussion forum (44 percent), or hosting an online chat session (33
Time Commitment and Attrition
- Over 80 percent of the respondents indicated that teaching online
was more time-consuming than teaching traditional courses.
- According to the respondents, the dropout rate was higher in fully
online courses than in partially online courses-ten percent of fully
online courses experienced more than 50 percent attrition, whereas only
2 percent of those teaching in a blended mode (i.e., courses combining
Web and classroom-based instruction) experienced that degree of attrition.
- Seventy-eight percent of the respondents had Internet or Web access
in their current or most recent classroom.
- According to the respondents, nearly all students and instructors
had access to an Internet-connected lab for class use (93 percent).
- Nearly all respondents had access to the Internet from home (97 percent).
Platform Choices and Preferences?
- Eighty-three percent of the respondents to this survey indicated that
their institution provided a Web-based platform or courseware system
for developing online courses or enhancing on-campus courses with online
- Of those institutions providing access to a Web-based courseware platform
or online conferencing tool, 27 percent offered access to more than
one platform or conferencing tool; 10 percent to three courseware systems
or conferencing tools; and 5 percent to four or more systems or tools.
- Respondents indicated that they preferred online courseware that was
easy to use, functional, consistent, reliable, customizable, flexible,
comprehensive, professional in appearance, integrated, secure, learner-centered,
and pedagogically useful. Many specific tool and support features were
Online Teaching Load
- Of those who expected to teach during the next decade, 27 percent
of the respondents anticipated that more than a fourth of their teaching
load would be allocated to online courses in the next year. Their predictions
increased to 44 percent in two years, 64 percent in five years, and
73 percent in 10 years.
- Only 16 percent of the respondents had been freelance or adjunct instructors
on the Web in the past.
- Nearly 75 percent, however, were interested in teaching as freelance
or adjunct online instructors in the next five years. Demand as well
as services for such instructors may explode during the coming decade.
Primary Institutional Motives for Online Education
- Forty-one percent of the respondents agreed with the statement that
a primary motive behind online education was profit, while 62 percent
felt that a primary motive was learning. Nearly all (93 percent), however,
also perceived that a primary motive was increasing access to education.
- In terms of their home institution, these percentages were slightly
lower with 29 percent of the respondents agreeing that a primary motive
was profit, 53 percent learning, and 81 percent access.
Reasons for University Investment
- According to these respondents, decisions by their home institutions
to invest in Web-based teaching and learning included such important
factors as access to external resources (67 percent), improved efficiency
in teaching and research (63 percent), and providing distance education
to a potentially unlimited audience (58 percent).
- Less important factors were cooperation and resource sharing within
the higher education community (41 percent) and building partnerships
with business and government (31 percent).
Web-Based Teaching Decision Making
- According to the faculty respondents, university administrators were
key players in 63 percent of the decisions to use and support instructional
technology for Web-based teaching. Faculty and departments had a role
in such decision-making in 40 percent of the institutions surveyed.
Campus technology support units or personnel make these decisions in
36 percent of the respondent institutions, while chief technology officers
were responsible in 27 percent. Teaching and learning center directors
were involved in these decisions roughly 20 percent of the time.
- Decision-making varied by size of institution. At institutions with
enrollments of under 3,000 students, faculty, campus technology support,
and chief technology officers are more likely to make these decisions
than at larger institutions. In contrast, teaching and learning center
directors and departments are more influential in larger institutions.
None of these differences, however, were statistically significant.
- Differences in decision-making between public and private institutions
were relatively minor as both typically relied on administrative level
decision making. However, public institutions more often involved teaching
and learning center directors, departments, and campus technical support
people in their decision-making process, while private institutions
more often involved faculty.
Useful Online Class Tools
- Web tools for posting syllabi online were utilized by 85 percent of
respondents and 72 percent deemed them highly useful.
- Tools for online cases, problems, or questions were valued and used
by 70 of the respondents.
- Over 70 percent of the respondents used file uploading and downloading
tools and 65 percent rated them as highly valuable.
- Online lecture notes were utilized by 69 percent of the respondents
and 57 percent of them deemed such tools useful.
- Online self-test tools were used by 47 percent of the respondents
and 52 percent of these faculty rated this feature as highly useful.
- Online tests and quizzes as well as tools for placing an entire course
on the Web were valued and used by about 47 percent of the respondents.
- Used less and also viewed as less useful were online student course
evaluations and databases.
- In general, the percent of respondents who viewed online collaboration
and sharing tools as useful was higher than the percent that actually
used them. Therefore, development of such tools should become a priority.
Useful Collaboration and Sharing Tools
College instructors perceived a need for more collaborative
tools. Tools with more than a 10 percent gap between actual use and perceived
high usability included tools for instructors to form collaborations with
other instructors, tools for students to share stories with other students,
tools for interactive feedback and annotations on student work, tools
for instructor test-making collaboration, tools for instructor task collaboration,
and tools for online technology demonstrations. Large gaps between reported
teaching practice and perceived usability indicates a need for additional
collaborative tools in e-learning environments.
Some types of collaborative tools are more likely to
be used than others, including discussion forums (61 percent), tools for
providing feedback and annotations on student work (46 percent), and tools
for student teamwork or collaboration (46 percent).
While many respondents utilized instructor profile
tools (52 percent) and student profile tools (34 percent), few indicated
that they were highly useful in their teaching.
Real-time chat tools were only utilized by 32 percent
of the respondents in their teaching.
The respondents, in general, perceived online guestbooks
Useful Online Instructional Activities
- All online activities (e.g., online simulations, data analyses, laboratories,
performances, and critical and creative thinking) were ranked as highly
important by more than 40 percent of the respondents. In fact, fewer
than 25 percent found these tools to be of low importance. However,
actual use ranged from only 23 percent to 45 percent, thereby indicating
another critical area for Web-based teaching tool development efforts.
The most requested online instructional activities were those meant
to foster student critical and creative thinking.
Useful Web Resources
- Search engines were used by 83 percent of the respondents for teaching
purposes, and 70 percent viewed them as highly useful for teaching.
- Online article and journal links were used by 74 percent of the respondents
in their teaching; 70 percent viewed them as highly useful for teaching.
- Sixty-one percent used discipline-specific online teaching and learning
resources in their teaching, while 58 percent used more general online
resources related to teaching and learning pedagogy. More than half
of the respondents viewed each of these types of online resources-general
and specific-as highly useful in their teaching.
- Web sites and resources from colleagues were used by 58 percent of
the respondents. Fifty-four percent viewed these as highly useful.
- Online glossaries with examples on the Web were used by 57 percent
of the respondents and a similar percentage found such tools highly
- Tools for students to make Web link suggestions as well as tools for
book recommendations were used by nearly half of the respondents in
- Online newsgroups were used by only 18 percent of the respondents
and few viewed them as potentially useful for their teaching.
Obstacles to Web-Based Teaching
- According to 62 percent of the respondents, the main obstacle to using
the Web in teaching was the preparation time required.
- Forty percent of the respondents identified the lack of support for
technical problems and course development as major obstacles to teaching
online at their institution.
- Other obstacles included time to learn to use the Web (37 percent),
inability to display the Web in the classroom (29 percent), lack of
training in how to use the Web (24 percent), inadequate hardware in
one's office (18 percent), lack of software (15 percent), and other
problems (17 percent).
- Lack of interest in the Web for teaching was not an obstacle for these
- Faculty from smaller institutions were significantly more likely to
list technical and course development support as obstacles than those
teaching in settings with over 10,000 student enrollments (51 percent
versus 31 percent).
- Faculty members from public institutions were significantly more likely
to list time to learn to use the Web as a barrier in their Web-based
teaching efforts (40 percent) than faculty from private institutions
- Though not statistically significant different, female faculty appeared
to face more barriers than males, including time to learn to use the
Web, time for online course preparation, and a lack of support for their
technical problems and courseware development efforts. In contrast,
males noted a lack of software or out-of-date tools as obstacles to
their Web-based teaching practices significantly more often than females.
Support for Web-Based Teaching and Research
- The main supports requested by these college instructors to utilize
the Web in teaching, research, or administrative duties included release
time (70 percent), instructional development grants and stipends (68
percent), recognition in tenure, salary, and promotion decisions (68
percent), technical support staff to assist with technical problems
(68 percent), time to learn about and use the Web (60 percent), instructional
design support (58 percent), and training on how to use the Web in teaching
- Less popular support structures included greater access to computers
for students (31 percent), online resources (31 percent), e-mail notification
of technology changes (27 percent), and chat room Web help (13 percent).
Such findings suggest that access to Web resources is no longer a significant
barrier to effective online teaching and learning.
- Faculty members in public institutions expected many more forms of
support for their Web-based teaching efforts than those in private institutions,
including a desire for more online resources, instructional development
grants or stipends, release time, instructional design help, Web training,
time to utilize the Web in teaching, greater student access to computers,
recognition for their online efforts in salary and promotion decisions,
and e-mail notification of changes in Web-based teaching resources.
- Institutional size made a difference in terms of the supports instructors
deemed necessary. Faculty members at smaller institutions pointed to
the need for instructional design support. Those in medium-sized institutions
wanted more time allocated to learn about and utilize the Web in their
teaching. Finally, instructors at large institutions indicated that
they needed recognition, development grants, and release time.
- Gender differences here were minimal, though male instructors did
request release time and opportunities for instructional development
grants significantly more often than did female instructors.
Online Communities for Resource Sharing
- Eighty-two percent of respondents were interested in becoming part
of a free community for the sharing of course resources and teaching
- The most popular features of such a community included the availability
of pedagogical ideas (77 percent), answers to teaching problems (64
percent), expert advice (62 percent), classroom management tips (56
percent), and professional recognition (42 percent).
- Lower rated items included online newsletters (25 percent) and tools
for online storytelling (19 percent).
Useful Web-Based Services, Resources, and Information
- There were numerous Web resources that respondents reported would
be valuable. The key resources and services to which these college instructors
wanted access included online course design and development help (73
percent), electronic papers, journals, and technical reports (71 percent),
and online teaching help (70 percent).
- More than half of the respondents valued access to Web-based survey
and evaluations tools (59 percent), online simulations and experiments
(59 percent), downloadable shareware and freeware (59 percent), online
library resources (54 percent), conference information (52 percent),
online bookstores (51 percent), discounted hardware and software (51
percent), and online course listings (50 percent).
- A large percentage of respondents also asked for trial or demonstration
software (49 percent), online workshops and institutes (48 percent),
online mentoring and tutoring services (46 percent), freelance teaching
opportunities (45 percent), and online university bookstores and merchandise
- Less important to these college instructors were access to online
courseware company listings (21 percent) and discounted instructional
resources (19 percent).
Based on these findings, seven key recommendations
for college instructors, administrators, and institutions of higher education
were generated. These recommendations relate to instructor training, recognition
and support, and sharing of expertise, as well as online learning policy,
research, tool development partnerships, and pedagogy.
- Instructor Training: Colleges and universities
need to consider how they are training their faculty for online teaching
in an online world. For instance, instructional design support and guidelines
should help instructors get acclimated to this new form of teaching.
In addition, colleges and universities might offer institutes, courses,
online mentoring, and instructional design help. Early Web adopters
might be utilized as mentors for new faculty members in such training
or professional development efforts. Time allocated to training also
is a key consideration.
- Instructor Recognition and Support: Colleges
and universities need to consider how they recognize online teaching
efforts in promotion and tenure. They also could provide release time,
instructional development grants, stipends, and other forms of assistance
to online instructors.
- Instructor Sharing of Expertise and Resource Exchange: Higher
education institutions should create ways for faculty to electronically
share services, expertise, and resources as well as mentor new faculty
online. They might also develop tools for faculty sharing of activities
and resources, including tools for sharing reusable knowledge objects
or some type of knowledge exchange program.
- Online Learning Policies: Higher education
institutions need to develop clear guidelines or policies regarding
the ownership of online course materials and applicable royalties. They
should have policies in place related to freelance online teaching at
other institutions. They might also consider clearly articulating why
certain courseware tools, policies, and expectations have been adopted
related to Web-based instruction.
- Online Learning Research: Before adopting
new policies, colleges and universities should review existing research.
They might also provide internal mini-grants for faculty to research
their own course and program development efforts. Similarly, internal
research related to the perceived obstacles to online learning as well
as case studies of successful faculty adoption may be helpful. Results
of such research should be made available to all faculty of the institution.
- Online Courseware Development Partnerships: Rather
than every large higher education institution attempting to spend money
to develop its own courseware platform or shell, colleges and universities
should seek partnerships with courseware and other e-learning companies
wherein they serve as beta test sites for new tool development efforts.
They might also seek to form tool development consortia with other institutions.
Technology centers and research institutes within higher education settings
could perform usability studies and help co-develop products in return
for lower or nominal courseware fees.
- Online Learning Pedagogy: In conjunction
with the last recommendation, higher education institutions need to
demand and perhaps help develop and research different types of pedagogical
tools for e-learning that foster student higher-order thinking and collaboration.
Once developed, online tools that target critical and creative thinking
as well as teamwork online should be showcased for faculty, students,
To view or download this report:
This report was prepared with help from: Erin Maher,
Ph.D., Christopher Essex, Barbara Halpenny, CourseShare.com and Indiana
University, and Co-Sponsored by JonesKnowledge.com and CourseShare.com
We deeply appreciate all the college instructors who
participated in this study and shared their insights about the world of
online teaching and learning. In addition, we would like to thank Steven
Shapiro at JonesKnowledge.com for helping shape the direction of this
survey. Finally, we recognize the valuable assistance from Elizabeth Nelson,
Michelle Staresnick, Carin Neitzel, Stephanie Crane, and Charles Graham
as well as the programming talents of Mitch Wagner.
About the Authors
Dr. Curtis J. Bonk is a former CPA and corporate
controller who received his master's and Ph.D. degrees from the University
of Wisconsin. Curt Bonk is now an associate professor in the Departments
of Counseling and Educational Psychology as well as Instructional Systems
Technology at Indiana University (IU). He also is a core member of the
Center for Research on Learning and Technology. He received the Burton
Gorman teaching award in 1999 and the Wilbert Hites Mentoring Award in
During the past few years, he has been a visiting
scholar in Finland, Canada, and Australia. Curt is currently a Senior
Consortium Research Fellow with the Army Research Institute. He edited
"Electronic Collaborators " published in 1998 by Erlbaum. As
a result of his work on pedagogical strategies for Web education, he has
given hundreds of national and international talks on this topic. He is
President of CourseShare.com, which he founded in 1999. Dr. Bonk can be
reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, web page http://CourseShare.com
Justin Bresler is Senior Marketing Manager, JonesKnowledge.com
at 9697 East Mineral Avenue, Englewood, Colorado 80112. He can be reached
by email at: email@example.com, web page: