Stressed out by glass walls, videos and dimmer switches

Diana Garrisi looks at issues troubling lecturers in the Share project's latest batch of daily diaries

May 19, 2011

Technology is supposed to make academic life easier and more productive, but participants in a year-long research project suggest that it often does the opposite.

The impact of technology is one of several topics explored in the latest set of diaries written as part of the Share project; other concerns touch on the stress of moving office and the need to dress up for the boss.

Share, led by the University of Kent and funded by the Higher Education Academy, is investigating teaching practice. Participants in the project detail their activities one day every month.

One lecturer complains about a move into a new building. "I see it has been designed for everything except academic work," they write. "The doors are glass, with no frosting, and we have an internal window as well.

"Students walk by all the time. So I'm sitting talking with a student about their work, and I see their eyes glaze over, distracted by a friend walking past behind me."

If transparent walls pose problems, so do those that seem to be closing in on the occupants.

Describing a recent lecture, another diarist writes: "The room is quite small, claustrophobic and very hot. It didn't start well - the room was locked when I arrived and it took 10 minutes for someone from customer services to come and unlock it.

"Then the data projector took five minutes to load and then the semi-automated lighting dimmer switch decided to play games."

The tyranny of technology is a recurring theme. One academic recounts the arrival of a new computer, allocated as part of a "five-year rolling plan".

"It is nice and fast. It also removes the word "I" from every email I send. Not sure if I should ask for it to be fixed, or if that will take another five years," the diarist says.

Others express their dissatisfaction with technology used to deliver online courses ("you can't have two windows open at the same time - come on, it's not 1995!"), and the discovery that video equipment in a classroom had no sound ("although our brilliant learning technology service always records videos with subtitles for those with hearing difficulties, I didn't expect the whole group to have to rely on them").

One of the most common gripes, however, is about dealing with emails. "Tried to clear some of my email backlog - when it gets to triple figures, I know things are starting to fall apart," says one. "On holiday for once. In Ireland - very nice. Still doing emails," says another.

For one academic, however, the trials of the high-tech working environment are superseded by a more time-honoured concern: dressing to impress. "Since the dean will be at our faculty meeting this afternoon, I put on my most formal T-shirt,", they say.

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