August 28, 2011

The Digital Revolution and Higher Education

The Digital Revolution and Higher Education
College Presidents, Public Differ on Values of Online Learning

As online college courses have become increasingly prevalent, the general public and college presidents offer different assessments of their educational value, according to a new Pew Research Center report. Just three-in-ten American adults (29%) say a course taken online provides an equal educational value to one taken in a classroom. By contrast, about half of college presidents (51%) say online courses provide the same value.

More than three-quarters of college presidents (77%) report that their institutions now offer online courses, and college presidents predict substantial growth in online learning:  15% say most of their current undergraduate students have taken a class online, 50% predict that ten years from now most of their students will take classes online.

The report is based on findings from two Pew Research Center surveys: a national poll of the general public, and a survey of college presidents done in association with The Chronicle of Higher Education. It analyzes the perceptions of the public and college presidents about the value of online learning, the prevalence and future of online courses, use of digital textbooks, the internet and plagiarism, and technology use in the classroom, as well as college presidents’ own use of technology.

Among the findings:

  • Online Students. Roughly one-in-four college graduates (23%) report that they have taken a class online. However, the share doubles to 46% among those who have graduated in the past ten years. Among all adults who have taken a class online, 39% say the format’s educational value is equal to that of a course taken in a classroom.
  • Digital Textbooks. Nearly two-thirds of college presidents (62%) anticipate that 10 years from now, more than half of the textbooks used by their undergraduate students will be entirely digital.
  • The Internet and Plagiarism. Most college presidents (55%) say that plagiarism in students’ papers has increased over the past 10 years. Among those who have seen an increase in plagiarism, 89% say computers and the internet have played a major role.
  • Do Laptops and Smartphones Belong in the Classroom? More than half of recent college graduates (57%) say when they were in college they used a laptop, smartphone or tablet computer in class at least sometime. Most colleges and universities do not have institutional guidelines in place for the use of these devices in class. Some 41% of college presidents say students are allowed to use laptops or other portable devices during class; at 56% of colleges and universities it is up to the individual instructors. Only 2% of presidents say the use of these devices is prohibited.
  • College Presidents and Technology. The leaders of the nation’s colleges and universities are a tech-savvy group. Nearly nine-in-ten (87%) use a smartphone daily, 83% use a desktop computer and 65% use a laptop. And they are ahead of the curve on some of the newer digital technologies: Fully half (49%) use a tablet computer such as an iPad at least occasionally, and 42% use an e-reader such as a Kindle or Nook.
  • College Presidents and Social Networking. Roughly one-third of college presidents (32%) report that they use Facebook weekly or more often; 18% say they use Twitter at least occasionally.

The survey of the general public was conducted, on landline and cell phone, March 15-29, 2011, among a nationally representative sample of 2,142 adults. Margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.7 percentage points for results based on the total sample. The survey of college presidents is based on a web survey conducted with 1,055 college and university presidents in the U.S. from two-year and four-year private, public, and for-profit colleges and universities. Margin of error is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for results based on the total sample.