Rethink time needed for online teaching, universities urged

Allowance needed for ‘upfront’ time cost of creating digital content, event hears

November 18, 2021
Greenwich, London, UK - July 15th 2006 Fragment of the Galvano-Magnetic clock (Sephered) in the wall of Greenwich Observatory, with 24-hour and Roman numerals.
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Universities may need to rethink how they measure the time that academics need to teach students to allow for the shift towards online education, a Times Higher Education summit has heard

Maryanne Dever, pro vice-chancellor of education and digital at the Australian National University, said many institutions were still calculating teaching workload in terms of actual contact hours with students, something that failed to capture the total effort needed, especially in terms of digital content.

Professor Dever was speaking during a session on the future of online learning at THE’s Teaching Excellence Summit, which also heard from Diana Laurillard, professor of learning with digital technologies at the UCL Institute of Education.

Professor Laurillard said that the use of digital material such as videos had the potential to make academics more productive when it came to teaching, but it required a lot of initial time investment.

“It takes hours to make a four-minute video, it doesn’t take four minutes. So the first time you do it, it’s very costly in terms of time but once it’s done it can then be reused…it pays off in the longer term,” she said.

Professor Dever said this made it vitally important for leaders to support academics, because “I think a lot of people baulk at that [up-front time cost]”.

“They already have a very full schedule, a very full life…we have got to find ways of really demonstrating to them that there will be economies down the track and the investments up front will have their rewards.”

She added that the ways in which workloads were calculated might also need reassessing to take account of how digital content was shifting working patterns in this way.

“Often, still, in many of our institutions the academic workload is calculated in terms of contact hours in the classroom and that doesn’t in any way capture the totality of what’s now required both to deliver a quality learning experience for students and to undertake all of the associated administrative tasks,” she said.

“So I think there has to be a stepping back and actually thinking what is it we’re asking of our academic staff and what does that really look like if we put that into a workload.”

Professor Dever also warned the sector not to confuse how academics had “just jumped in and did whatever they could” during the pandemic with the effort that would be needed for a “properly thought through, intentional, phased and planned approach” to digital education.

“One of the things that both shocked and thrilled us, I think, over the last two years was how quickly we could do things when we had to,” she said.

“But I don’t think [we can stick with] that kind of temporality. It would burn people out completely if we kept expecting them to do everything at speed.”

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