Thursday, June 21, 2012

Faulty Inside Higher Ed Survey Demonizes Faculty

This morning's Twitter feed was rife with news of a story from Inside Higher Ed directly relevant to the UVA fiasco. President Teresa Sullivan was reportedly canned for failing to push an agenda for online education at UVA, standing in the way of so-called "progress."  Is this because she catered too much to faculty, who are increasingly described as the main obstacle to reform?

It seems some people want you to believe yes-- the real problem isn't the rampant excitement over a fairly untested pedagogical approach to education, but the resistance of the educators.  So today IHE shares a new survey: Conflicted-Faculty and Online Education, 2012.  The story's lede reads: "Faculty members are far less excited by, and more fearful of, the recent growth of online education than are academic technology administrators."  Professors are described as lacking optimism, having a "bleak" view of the quality of online education.  The survey report wonders "why"-- rather than praising profs for their skepticism, something faculty are widely known and respected for.

So-- big finding, right?  WRONG.  This story doesn't belong in a respected publication like IHE.  Here's why:

The survey, conducted by a team known for its studies of distance learning, and including advertisements by online educators, obtained a 7.7% response rate among faculty, and a less than 10% response rate among administrators. 
Yes, you read that right. About 60,000 professors were surveyed and just 4,564 provided enough of an answer to be includdd in the study.  For real? This isn't nationally representative of anything. It's a horribly biased little subsample, and yet the RR isn't even mentioned in the reporting!

Moreover, look at the questions-- where'd they get the "fear vs. excitement" answers? Because they only provided those two options.  Gee, am I fearful or excited about a new untested pedagogy being pushed on me?  Well...neither. But I'm not stupid enough to jump on a bandwagon, so I will choose "fearful." By which I mean skeptical.

I have such respect for folks like Doug Lederman and his crew at IHE, that I am honestly shocked this is running in that publication at all. It shouldn't.

Take it down.

Update: I have already heard from Doug Lederman, and he will be adding the response rate to the text of the article and to the PDF of the study. He feels a low response rate is a non-issue here, doesn't imply selection bias, and it is an achievement to get 4,500 faculty to do any survey at all. Moreover, he does not agree that the study demonizes faculty.  We can agree to disagree on that.