Online teaching ‘significant new stress’ for lecturers

A survey by Jisc has found that many staff have not received enough support with online teaching from their employers

A survey of several thousand academics suggests only half received adequate support with online teaching and three-quarters feel blended learning has added “significant new stress” to their job.

The findings published today (29 November) come from the ‘Teaching staff digital experience insights survey 2020/21’, compiled by Jisc. Almost 4,000 teaching staff from 24 universities were surveyed by the HE IT not-for-profit firm.

Seventy-three per cent of academics said teaching online had added “significant new stress” to their daily jobs, while only 26% felt the teaching expectations placed on them had been reasonable.

While two-thirds (66%) of university lecturers had been offered support with online learning from their employer, only 54% felt the assistance was good enough.

Over three-quarters (76%) reflected that the last year had changed their role as a teacher.

As universities announce plans for blended learning, just 16% said that staff concerns “were being heard” by senior management.

To achieve government ambitions set out in the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, we all need to invest continuously in the digital capabilities of staff
– Gordon McKenzie, Guild HE

Staff feedback about online services was “less positive than is desired”, Jisc noted. Only 39% thought the online learning platforms were well designed, and 41% found them easy to navigate.

Six in 10 (61%) thought universities had communicated well with staff through the pandemic and 84% thought the quality of online teaching had been good.

Staff reflected that increased engagement from some students, particularly those from non-traditional backgrounds, was an unexpected positive of the blended approach. Respondents were also broadly optimistic about the potential to find new ways to do things and for a better work-life balance if online learning allows them to work from home more.

Technology issues were widespread, the survey suggests. More than six in 10 encountered one of the five common issues listed by Jisc – including 51% that struggled with poor wifi.

Gordon McKenzie, chief executive of Guild HE, which represents small and specialist HE providers, said that, while improvements were evident since the previous year’s findings, the Jisc survey “suggests a sizeable portion of the teaching workforce did not receive the support needed to deliver a high-quality learning experience online”.

McKenzie declared the need for technology-proficient staff more compelling than ever. “To achieve government ambitions set out in the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, we all need to invest continuously in the digital capabilities of staff so they can, in turn, invest in our students, ensuring everyone can train, retrain, or upskill throughout their lives,” he wrote in a foreword to the report.

The findings come as Universities UK today publishes a report – titled “Lessons from the pandemic – which relates collective opinions and experiences of diverse HE providers. Much of the report draws on information already publicly available, like, for example, the reduction in the awarding gap between white and Black students, which dropped more than three percentage points in the space of a year during the pandemic.

The UUK report claims universities have overseen “a significant digital upskilling of both staff and students” since the 2020/21 academic year: a conclusion not entirely upheld by the findings of the Jisc survey also published today.

Universities are prioritising training and digital investment in upcoming strategies, UUK says – but the intention comes with a warning that hurdles like student digital poverty and funding constraints, which are out of their control, could hamper progress.

Read more: Two-thirds of students give uni online learning positive review, Jisc survey suggests

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