Laura Gibbs

Facts and Opinions: a response to the IHE survey

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Oct 31, 2018

I'm guessing some or even many of you have done the Pew survey about fact versus opinion:

Younger Americans better at telling factual news statements from opinions

I had no trouble accurately classifying all five fact statements and all five opinion statements on the quiz, and I would hope the same would be true of all educators.


So, let's look at a question on the latest edition of Inside Higher Ed's Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology.

Inside Higher Ed: Faculty Survey on Technology


They asked faculty to agree or disagree with this statement:
For-credit online courses can achieve student learning outcomes that are at least equivalent to those of in-person courses.


The format of the question promotes the notion that this is a matter of opinion (agree or disagree). But it is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact, and there are plenty of demonstrations that online courses can achieve outcomes that are at least equivalent to in-person courses; indeed, there are demonstrations that online courses can achieve superior outcomes. I myself can offer up 15+ years and thousands of students demonstrating that fact, based on learning outcomes, as well as quality of student work and student satisfaction. But don't listen to me; listen to real experts like Tony Bates or Michelle Pacansky-Brock.


It bothers me that Inside Higher Ed is asking a question like this as if it were a matter of opinion, rather than as a matter of fact. But that is indeed a good way to see if people are prejudiced against online courses, and that prejudice comes through loud and clear. People with least experience are most likely to answer the question incorrectly (it is a matter of fact, not opinion, so yes, their answer is incorrect):


Instructors who have never taught online courses are more likely to disagree than agree that online courses can achieve the same outcomes as in-person instruction. Six in 10 professors with no online teaching experience disagree that online instruction can achieve equivalent outcomes in their department or discipline, and nearly 7 in 10 disagree it can do so in the courses they teach.


To see how prejudiced this is, imagine if they asked a question like "Women can achieve learning outcomes that are at least equivalent to those of men in STEM courses," and you found that 70% of STEM instructors who had NEVER TAUGHT WOMEN contended that women cannot achieve learning outcomes at least equivalent to men in their courses. (For an even scarier thought experiment, think about what it would be like to be a woman in one of those classes if one of those prejudiced instructors were required by their school to teach women in their classes.)


Of course, personal experience is not always sufficient to achieve accurate knowledge; if people are teaching online in an unskilled way, their students might fail to achieve good learning outcomes, in which case they would conclude (wrongly) that there is something deficient about online as a teaching mode, as opposed to concluding that there is something deficient about their teaching methods online. So IHE finds that even among faculty who have taught online, there are people who are prejudiced against online education (i.e. they disagree with the fact that online courses can achieve student learning outcomes that are at least equivalent to those of in-person courses).


More generally, I would argue that this is not so much an indictment of prejudice against online education, but instead a more general problem with teaching in higher education. Surveys like this one by Inside Higher Ed show that faculty members are not responding progressively and proactively to the many teaching challenges we face, with digital literacy being just one of those challenges.


I wrote a long response to this Inside Higher Ed survey four years ago which I published at Medium:

Devotedly Digital: Why I Love Teaching Online


screenshot of Medium post


I re-read that essay this morning, and I would stand by all the things I said there (even more passionately now!) ... although it was great to see one really big change: I wrote that article when we were still using D2L at my school. We are now using Canvas, so that means I can share OPEN Canvas courses and other resources in order to help expand faculty members' knowledge about what is possible when teaching online. So, THANK YOU as always to Canvas for letting us make our courses open, and also for providing this Community space where we can connect and share ideas about teaching and learning. Here are my Canvas courses: and, plus I have many open Canvas resource spaces like


More than better technology, we need a better culture of teaching and learning, especially in higher education, and having open courses and open discussions is a big part of how that will happen.


cat upside down in tree

Open your mind with a new perspective.



P.S. Stefanie Sanders as you can imagine, I sure am glad they fixed that gremlin gobbling up the word online in time for me to write this post! :-)