For the college and university deans and other academic leaders reading the 2022 edition of the Time for Class report, many of the takeaways boil down to giving attention to courseware selection, implementation, and faculty support, and to using courseware (and other digital tools) to improve the learning experience for every student, particularly in gateway courses.
Time for Class is a long-running series of research on digital learning in higher education conducted by Tyton Partners with support from Every Learner Everywhere. Time for Class 2022: The State of Digital Learning and Courseware Adoption examines how faculty and institutional leaders are using instructional materials to implement teaching practices that can improve student learning and outcomes, especially for students historically underserved by higher education.
The report is based on survey responses from approximately 850 administrators and 3,200 faculty at 1,200 postsecondary institutions as well as interviews with over 15 providers of instructional materials and digital learning products. More than two-thirds of the respondents teach gateway courses; the report focuses on those courses and their instructors because of the large number of students reached and the influence of those courses on student retention.
Data throughout Time for Class 2022 shows the benefits of digital learning for minoritized, poverty-affected, and first-generation learners if it is implemented thoughtfully. It can promote equity, lower costs, enable degree progress, and promote continuous improvement. But the work of incorporating digital learning takes time, ongoing evaluation, and faculty support.
Select courseware that is intuitive to faculty and students
While students report mostly positive perceptions of digital courseware, they are quick to note when it is confusing, difficult to use, or not implemented well.
Lisa Yuan, Tyton Principal and Lead for the 2022 survey, says, “Institutions can use digital learning to make the learning experience more flexible and to better support student success.”
Yuan says a consistent comment she heard from courseware providers interviewed as part of this research was that they were constantly asking themselves how they could make their products more efficient to use for educators and students.
One solution is to invite faculty and students from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds to be co-designers to product developers. In addition, institutions and faculty can ask for their feedback in the selection of instructional materials as well.
One resource for the selection process is the CourseGateway tool. It includes reviews of courseware products by an independent advisory board using criteria such as equity, efficacy, and functionality.
Related reading: Adaptive Courseware Implementation Guide
Ensure instructors have data that can drive equity-centered teaching
Tyton Managing Director Kristen Fox notes that access and use of data is one of the ways digital learning tools can support colleges experiencing learning gaps for racially and ethnically minoritized and poverty-affected students.
Access to disaggregated data on students makes a difference, according to the report, and overwhelmingly, educators report they don’t have it. The lack of disaggregated data can prevent faculty from implementing digital tools to support their teaching that meets students where they are, whether it be juggling a full-time job or the minoritized student who doesn’t see their experience reflected in outdated instructional materials.
Fox says there are two sides to using data to inform instruction. Students may be reluctant to share information about themselves out of fear of negative bias, and administrators may be concerned about violating student privacy.
But administrators should work with faculty to explore ways to invite students to share information in a way that creates feelings of inclusion and belonging. Knowing this information can then help faculty build a course centered on an equitable learning experience, whether that’s offering online office hours outside of the 9-5 window, offering digital proctoring, or allowing students to design their own course goals.
Related reading: 20+ Resources for Equity-Centered Digital Learning
Provide faculty with implementation guidance and technical support
Most of the survey respondents said digital learning tools help educators implement practices associated with better student learning. But less than half say they receive the support needed. Only 34 percent report they received robust support while selecting courseware, 45 percent during courseware implementation, and 45 percent during ongoing use of courseware. The primary provider of this support is the vendor or publisher of the courseware, not the institution.
While institutional leadership needs to invest resources in faculty support, they should also ensure that their selection and purchase of a given product accounts for support from providers, says Yuan: “If a provider does a bad job in providing support, you can always vote with your feet. You can put pressure on the provider because they do have a share of responsibility as well.”
An institution’s policies and general tone toward professional development, infrastructure, and support with regard to digital learning tools also has an impact. “It’s not just dollars being spent that lead to improvement,” says Fox. “It’s that I am rewarded and incentivized for high-quality teaching. Am I provided with support for experimenting with new approaches that focus on good teaching and student success?”
“We hope administrators will be more open minded toward the use of technology for their institution’s best purpose, rather than shying away,” Yuan says. “That can be really broad and not just online programs. Even if the classes are fully face to face, it can mean a lot of things, like quizzes online outside of class or submitting your essay online. If they’d check, they’d find students are doing digital learning already.”Read the full Time for Class 2022 report