Faculty Resistance to Change...Is it Related to Motivators and Barriers to Teaching Online?

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Are faculty members’ willingness to teach online related to their dispositional resistance to change? Is there a relationship between resistance to change and motivators or barriers to teaching online? This presentation will present the findings of a study exploring these variables and implications for practice.


Erin is a Librarian at Orange Coast College in Southern California. Prior to this position she was the Senior Director of La Verne Online, the virtual campus of the University of La Verne. Erin was brought in to develop and implement a strategic vision for online education at the University. Prior to working in La Verne Online, Erin was an academic research and technology librarian for more than 15 years. She also teaches online and is an adjunct faculty in the EdD in Organizational Leadership program at the University of La Verne. She is a 2018 IELOL alumni and a founding member of the Collegiate Online Research Collaborative (CORAL). Her research interests are in faculty trust and readiness for change; resistance and readiness towards online education in higher education, and effective leadership and organizational structures of online education.

Extended Abstract

There is little doubt that the last 20 years have brought a shift in pedagogy for higher education institutions.  Advancements in technology, coupled with more students seeking to work toward college degrees in the midst of balancing work and family responsibilities, has led to many universities offering alternative ways for students to complete coursework (Kemp & Grieve, 2014; Maguire, 2005). One specific shift has been a movement toward online education.  During the Fall of 2016, 31.7% of all college and university students were enrolled in at least one distance learning course, and 15% of the more than 19.8 million students were attending fully online (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). According to the Online College Students 2018 study, 85% of the students surveyed who took face-to-face classes and online courses felt their online experience was better or the same as in-person courses (Magda & Aslanian, 2018).  

However, the shift to more online offerings within institutions of higher education is not entirely motivated by the increase in technological advancements and flexibility needs for students.  Other interconnected factors such as the desire to increase access to convenient and flexible education (Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2016), the value in students gaining more of a global perspective on issues (Jung & Gunawardena, 2014), and the competitive need to leverage markets to increase institutional profits (Craig, 2015; McGee, 2015) also motivate the shift. Benefits to online courses (e.g., improved student access, higher degree completion rates, and an appeal to non-traditional students) have been reported (Allen & J. Seaman, 2007).

This shift toward online education in higher education, therefore, requires that faculty shift ways of teaching.  But this change in the status quo is often viewed by faculty as difficult and unnecessary (Allen, J. Seaman, Lederman, & Jaschik, 2012; Glass, 2017). As online education continues to grow, administrators see the lack of faculty participation as an obstacle to the process of growing online course or program offerings (Ortagus & Stedrak, 2013; Uderman, 2014).  Administrators within higher education institutions have noted that some faculty have resisted the call to move courses to an online format (Allen et al., 2012), showing that factors such as time, lack of financial or technological support, lack of recognition, beliefs that their course content cannot be translated online, or fears of losing connection with students can act as barriers to online teaching (Prottas, Cleaver & Cooperstein, 2016).  

Despite what has been revealed regarding faculty-perceived barriers to teaching online, more information is needed.  For instance, faculty who do teach online arguably perceive some of the same institutional barriers yet teach online anyway.  What makes those that teach online different than those who resist?  If lack of time, support, resources, and incentives keep some faculty away from the shift toward online education, why do some faculty move forward, regardless of these obstacles?  Research has demonstrated that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators are related to faculty motivation to teach online (Maguire, 2005).  While monetary incentives can act as a motivator to teaching online (Parker, 2003), some faculty report that the increased ability to reach new audiences, opportunities to develop new ideas, and the intellectual challenge that can come from teaching online have motivated them to engage in the online teaching process (Cook, Ley, Crawford, & Warner, 2009). Others report that online courses allow for diversity of a student population, allowing faculty members to teach students from a variety of locations in one class (Grant, 2004).  

One other possible explanation for differences between faculty that resist online teaching due to various obstacles and faculty that engage in online teaching, despite the obstacles, is dispositional factors and a general tendency to either embrace or resist change.  For many faculty today, teaching online constitutes a change in the higher education environment.  A large percentage of faculty obtained their degrees in brick and mortar classrooms, taught by faculty in traditional classroom settings.  Furthermore, they have spent a significant percentage of their career teaching in the same manner in which they were taught (Craig, 2015; McGee, 2015).  This potential change in how things are done within the academic setting can potentially lead some to embrace the opportunity to do something different or challenge themselves to learn a new way of teaching and lead others down a path of resisting the movement.   

The purpose of the study was to explore university faculty members’ resistance or motivation to teach online by examining their willingness (or lack thereof) in relation to their resistance to change in general.  Participants for this study were 131 faculty members of all ranks from a private, comprehensive university in Southern California.  The study explored the following research questions:

  1. What barriers prevent faculty from teaching online?
  2. What motivates faculty to teach online?
  3. Is resistance to, or motivation for, teaching online related to a dispositional attitude towards change in general?
  4. Is resistance to change, barriers to teaching online, and/or motivation to teaching online related to various demographic characteristics (e.g., age, faculty rank, program)?

This presentation will explore the findings from this study, as well as implications for practice.