Teaching Online: STEM in the Time of COVID

The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and Bay View Analytics, in partnership with Every Learner Everywhere, Carolina Distance Learning, DigitalEd, and support from HHMI BioInteractive has released a new report exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on STEM faculty who underwent a hurried transition to online instruction in higher education.

“OLC believes in the importance of trying to understand different experiences in the higher education space so that we can better assess how people’s experiences are interrelated,” said Jennifer Mathes, OLC Chief Executive Officer. “Online education is a collective experience, created from a number of varying perspectives – meaning how STEM faculty experienced the pandemic absolutely impacted how students experienced it.”

Some important highlights from the study include:

  • 73% of respondents surveyed report having converted face-to-face coursework to remote learning, despite more than a third of respondents having no prior experience with online education.
  • STEM faculty believe that almost all barriers they face in teaching their courses online are the same as those faculty in non-STEM discipline face.
  • The need for online labs is the only barrier a majority of STEM faculty thought was unique for them.
  • While generally optimistic about the potential effectiveness of online labs, only 18% of survey respondents have made use of them in their coursework.

Respondents believe that the transition to online-learning has exacerbated the divide between the have and the have-nots, as a lack of resources (including but not limited to access to technology, robust internet connectivity, and support services) unfairly impacts underserved student populations.

“The findings in this first report were only the beginning,” said Dr. Jeff Seaman of Bayview Analytics. “STEM faculty are now cautiously optimistic about the future of online STEM education. This suggests that they may reassess how STEM education is delivered, and be more open to new approaches that incorporate online education and digital learning into their curricula.”

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