We’re an academic couple juggling lecturing from home and childcare

Having a colleague in the house is good to bounce ideas off of, but who will stay on top of the potty training? Theresa Mercer and Andrew Kythreotis share their experience of working from home during a pandemic

March 20, 2020
Parent and child

We are an academic couple working in the same university, within the same school and in the same office (our desks even face each other).

For both of us, this is our “teaching heavy” semester and we were about two-thirds of the way through when our university announced that we would be moving to online teaching. This happened on Monday 16 March and was to be implemented by 9am the next day. The move to digital teaching happened so quickly, as it has for most universities, that we are still coming to terms with what this means for the practicality of delivering lectures and keeping our personal commitments, like childcare.

Neither of us is particularly digitally adept (as our students and colleagues can attest). Two days ago, for the first time, we both used Panopto to record our lectures. It was a completely surreal experience talking to a blank screen with a blank wall behind us. We are also keeping in contact with students and colleagues via email, Skype and Microsoft Teams. Today, I (Theresa) delivered my first live lecture through Blackboard Collaborate.

The students were due to go on a field trip to a local wood on Monday but that has been cancelled. Instead, I gave a virtual field trip with pre-recorded drone footage and photos. I thought I was doing so well, the students logged on and I shared my PowerPoint screen, but in the last 10 minutes, as I was showing the data and drone footage that they would need to write up for their reports, I didn’t realise that they were still stuck on the PowerPoint slides and I was talking to myself!

So, what is the reality of two academics working together from home? It can be easier to get work done and the university has provided resources and communication to allow us to continue our work and support our students. We are saving time (and money) on the train commute. We find ourselves bouncing ideas off each other. Yesterday morning we were able to Skype students that we co-supervise together.

Where one of us has had issues using the technology or it has not worked, we have shared laptops and learned how to use the technology together. Our first sound checks were hilarious, as we gesticulated at the screen and mocked each other’s accents (one slight Norfolk and the other an Australian-English hybrid) and filler words.

However, being two academics working remotely can also be challenging. We already miss the face-to-face interaction and relationships we have with our students and colleagues. The move to digital learning has helped to keep us in contact, but it will never replace the connection that you get from direct human interaction.

It is also difficult to switch off, especially as there is always the pull to check email updates and to talk to each other about our work. There is also the fact that we have two young children: a six-year-old and a two-year-old. We find ourselves now having to juggle work and childcare, as my (Theresa’s) mother, who is classed as a vulnerable person in this outbreak and who usually looks after our youngest during the week while we work, will no longer be able to help. We have managed so far by putting a routine in place and taking turns at the computer to address our student and teaching commitments.

What has materialised out of the Covid-19 outbreak and the suggested social distancing measures is that we (as academics) have had, ironically, more quality time as a family. This certainly says something about how academia as a professional vocation in “normal times” is sometimes counterproductive to a healthy and fulfilling family life.

We are managing so far in terms of delivering our teaching and looking after our family. In fact, in some ways we are enjoying it more.

However, please check back with us again once the marking starts to build up and the primary schools in the UK close after 20 March. We are sure this is on the mind of every academic with young school-aged children. In the meantime, this might be a good chance for us to recommence potty training our two-year old – which didn’t go so well a few months ago.

Theresa Mercer and Andrew Kythreotis are senior lecturers in the school of geography at the University of Lincoln.

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