Workload Campaign Update

On Wednesday 7th April, Chris attended a sub-JSNCC meeting with Richard Reece, Martin Atkinson,  Louise Naylor and Daniel Clarke in order to discuss plans for Autumn term 2021-22 teaching. At the meeting, Richard presented a .pptx that contained a range of plans that were to be put to EG today (Monday 12.4.21). Richard requested that I not share this with members until EG had confirmed plans, after which he would send me the slides so I could forward them to members. I’ll do so as soon as I receive the slides. In the meantime, I can pass on some general information from the meeting, as well as my impressions of what next term will look like. This post should be taken as a quick note as to my impressions of the meeting, and not the minutes (which will be available on the HR website), nor condoning any of the positions mentioned.

The Near Future

First, Richard was at pains to emphasise that plans will be contingent upon lockdown requirements and government policy. Early planning is important but ‘events might overtake us,’ he said. That said, there is currently an assumption that campus will be ‘open,’ though what ‘open’ might mean is not entirely clear. It seems that the current plan is to accommodate some form of social distancing in teaching spaces until 2022 based on the possibility of a third wave of infections. This has been predicted by SAGE, although the same group have (very) recently been encouraged by the continued drop in Covid-19 cases.  In any case, international travel restrictions are likely to mean accommodating international students both in residencies and classrooms will be the most problematic. As a result,  taught MA programmes look likely to face the most obstruction to a return to normal.

It is likely the social distancing will be at least 1m+ rule, and the Autumn timetable is currently being constructed upon this assumption. In this case, all lectures will again be delivered online with what Richard called ‘high value peer and teacher interactions’ being carried out face to face. The branch must be vigilant to pressure to re-use teaching material, and indeed Richard suggested that academics would able to do so if they wanted. The devaluation of a university education implied by the reuse of academic material over a number of years is clear, and branch officers will strive to make sure that the reuse of academic material cannot used as a panacea to workload demands on teaching staff.

Of particular note to members will be both the suggestion that programme coordinators have been asked to look at optional modules in terms of what can be ‘reasonably offered,’ and that there will be no student cap on first year modules. I enquired as to how staff will be immunised against threats to progression and job security if modules are not to be continued, and how the variety of education students can expect at the University will be maintained if this is the case.  Richard emphasised that this was not an effort to save money, and that only first year/first term modules would be affected. Louise also clarified that this is not to be enforced, but it is an option that is offered to Divisions in order to manage timetables. Furthermore, she said that impact assessment in promotion criteria has put in place a pandemic mitigation section that takes into account module evaluations and modules not being run. Staff have been asked to comment on the way that they have been affected, and that they should continue to do so.

The Further Future

Following a number of members concerns, I was keen to emphasise the importance of the University not adopting the model of the open University, but remaining fully a bricks and mortar institution. This was, Richard replied, not the intention for the medium or long-term, but some form of remote learning must continue into the short term. First, he said, there are 2,000 students who study remotely this year and that the University has a commitment to these students. Secondly, there are some courses that have been designed already for purely online provision (please excuse me shilling the one I designed) and he said that the continued provision of these remains a local, academic decision. This reassurance is something, but we have already seen from suggestions to push the University to a two-semester calendar that some members of EG are keen to immunise ‘normal business practice’ from threats (such as global viral pandemics and industrial action…).

Martin acknowledged the workload implications of continued blended learning provision. In response to my comments that, whilst IT services had provided an excellent suite of resources in order for staff to familiarise themselves with online learning, they simply did not have the time to take advantage of them, Martin said that more thought had to be put into this. However, programme-level evaluation of teaching might help reduce the workload and, for example, learning objectives being assessed.

What Members Can Do

Louise asked me to pass on to questions to members, responses to which would be valuable for her and her team.

  1. What kind of support would be necessary to prepare for the ongoing disruption in the Autumn term?
  2. How have staff been affected by the Covid period and the move towards blended learning? What does the mitigation policy need to address?

If members have any thoughts on these questions, please email Louise Naylor directly, CCing me (c.m.henry@kent.ac.uk).

In the meantime, Iain, Daniel Bearup and I will have a separate meeting with Richard on Friday to discuss the Board of Education and Student Experience responses (Education and Student Experience Response and E-Learning Team Response) to the recommendations in the Workload Survey Analysis document. If any members have any comments that we can feed into our conversation, please do email me.

All the best,

Chris

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