Staff say online teaching means more work and worse mental health

Written by: Chris Havergal
Published on: 4 Feb 2021
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Woman frustrated with computer

Source: iStock

Nine out of 10 university staff believe that the switch to online teaching as Covid-19 swept around the globe increased their workload, with the majority reporting a negative impact on their mental health, according to Times Higher Education’s Digital Teaching Survey.

The survey was completed by 520 respondents from 46 countries, although the majority – 334 – were from the UK.

Asked whether their workload had increased following the halting of on-campus tuition, 61 per cent of respondents strongly agreed, and another 28 per cent agreed.

One humanities lecturer said that delivering the equivalent of a one-hour lecture online took “at least 3-4 hours for recording and uploading…With editing and captioning, it’s more like 8-10 hours.”

Respondents expressed concern that managers failed to acknowledge the impact of this increased workload, while views were more mixed on whether leaders took account of the additional caring responsibilities that came with coronavirus-driven lockdowns. Asked whether managers showed consideration for their domestic and personal situation during lockdown, 42 per cent of respondents agreed, against 36 per cent who disagreed.

The result was that many respondents reported that the pandemic had had a significant impact on well-being. Asked whether the initial move to online teaching had had a negative impact on their mental health, 51 per cent agreed, while 27 per cent disagreed. Affirmative answers were highest in Australasia – 68 per cent – and lowest in Asia – 40 per cent.

One social sciences professor recalled feeling “extreme anxiety about the technology, about my students, about having the time to update and augment my learning materials. All of which the university was happy to encourage.”

Respondents also expressed concern about the impact of online learning on their students, with 59 per cent agreeing that learning was adversely affected by the digital switch, and only 12 per cent disagreeing.

Nevertheless, only 30 per cent of respondents felt that student tuition fees should be discounted when teaching was moved online, and 52 per cent felt they should not. Respondents cited the heavy workload associated with online teaching, the lack of cost savings, and the financial crisis facing universities.

The publication of the survey coincides with the launch of THE Campus, an online community for university educators to share resources focused on addressing the challenges of digital teaching, in partnership with Microsoft, Arizona State University and Cintana.