AAC&U News: December 2014
Facts & Figures

The Rise of Active Learning: Findings from the HERI Survey on Teaching Strategies of Undergraduate Faculty

The 2013–14 HERI Faculty Survey

The Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California–Los Angeles has published the results of its ninth survey of undergraduate teaching faculty, which is conducted every three years. This latest report focuses on the teaching styles of faculty, especially in relation to online learning and digital tools, as well as faculty members’ perceptions of their institutions’ priorities and inclusivity.

Despite all the attention given to MOOCs and other forms of online learning, most faculty members have never taught a full online course, though the number of faculty who have done so has increased in recent years. Many faculty members do report using online discussion boards, videos, and other digital tools, and the use of active learning strategies like class discussions and group projects has rapidly increased in recent years. However, many faculty members expressed concern with the perception and treatment of minorities at their institutions, and although most faculty say that student learning is a high priority at their institution, very few say that civic learning and community engagement are priorities at their institutions.

Teaching Practices

  • Faculty teaching practices have become increasingly student-centered. More than 80 percent of faculty now include class discussion in all or most of their courses (up from 70 percent in 1989), while the share of faculty using extensive lecturing has dropped from 55 percent in 1989 to 50 percent this year.
  • Faculty also now are making greater use of group projects (46 percent) and cooperative learning (60 percent). While relatively few faculty use student-selected topics and content in their courses, the proportion doing so has increased rapidly, from 8.5 percent in 1989 to 26 percent this year.
  • Most faculty members have frequent in-person contact with their advisees, either in scheduled meetings (62 percent), office hours (56 percent), or impromptu drop-ins (59 percent)—but the most common form of contact is e-mail.

Attitudes toward Online Learning

  • Despite the growth in online and blended learning, most faculty members (17. 4 percent) have not taught a fully online course. At public four-year colleges, which had the highest rate of online teaching, only 27 percent of  faculty had taught an exclusively online course, and only 8.5 percent of faculty at private universities had done so.
  • Online courses are also more likely to be taught by faculty of lower academic rank—21 percent of lecturers and 22 percent of instructors  have taught fully online courses, compared with only 15 percent of full professors.
  • Even when they are not teaching fully online, though, faculty are embracing online tools—more than half of all faculty incorporate online discussion boards into their teaching either frequently or occasionally, and 85 percent of faculty use videos from YouTube or other sources in their courses. 

Institutional Concerns

  • Most faculty (79 percent) believe promoting the intellectual development of students is the highest or a high priority at their institution, and 74 percent said preparing students for the work place is the highest or a high priority.
  • However, many faculty also said that increasing their institution’s prestige (71 percent) or national image (73 percent) was of the highest priority, and only 15 percent of faculty agreed that the administration at their institution is open about its policies.
  • Civic engagement was generally perceived as a lower priority—47 percent of faculty said student involvement in community service was a high priority, and 37 percent said helping students learn to promote change in society was a priority; 28 percent said providing resources for faculty to engage in community-based research or teaching was a priority.

Did You Know?

  • Most faculty (82 percent) have never taught a fully online course.
  • More than 80 percent of faculty use class discussions in most of their courses.
  • Only 15 percent of faculty say administrators at their institution are transparent about policies.

The full study results are available online from the Higher Education Research Institute.

About AAC&U News

AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.

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