What has helped faculty? Findings from our recent multinational, multi-institutional research

Adam Fein
3 min readSep 28, 2021

The role of peers and eLearning professionals in faculty success in the online pivot

By Tania Heap and Adam Fein

It’s been easy for pundits to dismiss the 2020–21 academic year as a year of lost learning and an impossible downward spiral for faculty. Even before the pandemic hit, flexibility, affordability, and sustainability were key components of successful programs designed to train online faculty members, who often have to find time around hectic personal and professional schedules. These components became even more critical during and immediately after a pandemic that caused sudden social and economic disruption on a global scale.

How did faculty fare in their teaching and learning transitions? What are some of the lessons that we can learn from the emergency remote transition and from shifting to digital rapidly, dramatically, and on a global scale? Looking at findings from a recent multinational and multi-institutional research study, (1) faculty awareness of a network of peer faculty in the same discipline whom they can tap into for advice, as well as (2) learning support professionals from teaching and learning centers, appears to increase faculty self-reported satisfaction, confidence, and preparedness in pivoting rapidly to remote instruction.

Our Digital Learning Research Center at The University of North Texas, together with Professor Lin Lin from the Department of Learning Technologies at UNT, partnered with scholars at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and six other higher education institutions (HEIs) across the globe, from Canada to Europe and Southeast Asia, to investigate immediate global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in teaching and learning in higher education, with a focus on issues that converged across the institutions in the study.

Findings are based on responses to interviews and questionnaires administered to 280 faculty members teaching 309 courses across eight HEIs in six countries. Most faculty members reported doing much of the emergency remote transition work by themselves, particularly with respect to communicating with students (77.7% of faculty) and delivering content (72.6%). Among the most common reasons cited was that faculty felt they had some general competence with learning technology, but they also had to do it rapidly and on short notice. However, faculty members also indicated they highly valued the role of IT and instructional support professionals in sharing online instructions on how to facilitate remote learning using technology, in leading just-in-time training sessions on how to use the institution’s Learning Management System (LMS) and other tech tools, and in responding to their “how to” questions. Faculty members also appreciated colleagues in their same subject discipline who were quick to share technical advice with them, and students who showed patience and understanding as faculty were tasked with rapidly pivoting their course to a different, often new to them, mode of instruction.

This does not imply that the transition to teaching remotely with technology was seamless. Almost half of all faculty members across the eight HEIs reported feeling personally “overwhelmed” by the process. Having said that, a vast majority of them (81%) were able to report relative success in shifting rapidly to remote instruction. Academic standards were made more flexible, such as by extending due dates to assignments, but they were neither abandoned nor significantly reduced. What is finally interesting to note is that, despite the sample of HEIs being still relatively small (8), no significant difference was found in the faculty experience handling the shift to digital between research-focused and teaching-focused institutions. Also, faculty’s prior technical competency and experience did not seem to make as much of an impact on faculty satisfaction in shifting to digital as was the awareness of a network of knowledgeable learning support professionals as well as peer faculty.

Our Digital Learning Research Center continues to investigate the longer-term impact of a rapid transition to digital on teaching experiences, student learning, and on faculty, student, and administrators’ perception of the future of online education. If you are a fellow researcher and faculty member looking to explore similar research questions to improve your own teaching and learning, and are looking for partners to collaborate, feel free email us at DSI.Research@unt.edu. We would love to hear and learn more from our peers within and outside UNT!



Adam Fein

Adam D. Fein (PhD, Illinois) is the VP of Digital Strategy & Innovation at the University of North Texas. His research examines multimedia learning performance.