B.C. assistant professors worried about faculty, student burnout from online learning

·2 min read

As the first semester of this post-secondary school year comes to an end, some B.C. university instructors say they are at their wits end when it comes to online teaching.

Hannah McGregor and Pooja Dharamshi, both assistant professors at Simon Fraser University, spoke out Wednesday on CBC's The Early Edition about the challenges they have had and the burnout they are feeling, after trying to mould young minds via video technology.

The stress began, said McGregor, when faculty was told all fall courses would have to be taught virtually.

"In a lot of cases, we got three days to figure out how to deliver our courses online and that's normally a whole job," said McGregor, who teaches in the school's publishing program.

Zoom fatigue

Dharamshi, a member of the education department faculty, said it also does not work to simply take a lecture intended for a classroom and try to duplicate it online.

"I have a four hour lecture with my graduate students," said Dharamshi. "You cannot stay on Zoom for four hours ... Zoom fatigue is real."

Psychologists have confirmed that constant video chat meetings are draining users more than in-person conversations.

The two women also worry about what they say is a lack of connectivity to their students and other faculty members.

McGregor said not only do faculty members often rely on each other for in-person support and inspiration, they are also used to getting energy from classrooms of students.

"Having conversations, building ideas together, you know, that's what makes education exciting. That's what makes teaching exciting. And it's not impossible to reproduce online, but it is hard and it's skilled labour and it's work that a lot of us just weren't ready for," she said.

It also makes it hard for the students Dharamashi teaches who she said often work on projects collaboratively but are now scattered across different time zones.

School offering support, resources

In a statement, Simon Fraser University said it recognizes the challenges of the pandemic and has support services available for students and staff, including mental health counselling and resources to help both groups adapt to online learning.

"It's really nice to have those resources. But again, it's something else to do," said Dharamashi who said many faculty members likely don't have time to attend online sessions on how to teach online when they are just too busy trying to keep on top of workloads or may have scheduling conflicts.

Plus there is that Zoom fatigue factor.

SFU's statement said faculty deans were recently surveyed about how their faculty has dealt with workloads during the pandemic and is currently going through those responses to identify what best practices are working well and what is not.

To hear the complete interview with Hannah McGregor and Pooja Dharamshi on CBC's The Early Edition, tap the audio link below: