“In a matter of weeks and months, we have witnessed reform like nothing we could imagine in the education system. While this is laudable for a system which takes years to reform, the pressure on teaching staff has been immense.”
Prior to the pandemic, discussions of staff wellbeing were sideline discussions – often a piecemeal nod to the rise of the wellbeing industry globally.
Come 2020 and the world goes online, transforming the whole topic to one nobody could avoid the education pandemic.
Now a top priority, wellbeing is more than an issue of retention but has escalated to one of vital importance across everything from teaching quality to mental health.
Is there a possibility that the timetable could help find solutions to parts of the wellbeing puzzle? At the heart of academic planning and delivery is the role of the timetable – could this now be a vital tool in fighting poor academic staff and student mental health?
In a matter of weeks and months, we have witnessed impacts and responses like nothing we could imagine in the education system. While this is laudable for a system that is often cited as taking years to reform, the pressure on staff was immense, but none felt it more than responsible for teaching.
Timetablers everywhere have been forced to re-evaluate the way things have always been done – to stop and think about how it can be done better. What is the goal and what are we working with?
The pandemic has caused us to shake up the system, asking us why we create things a certain way and timetabling has been thrown wide open to a global audit.
Timetables are set up to organise the daily lives of hundreds or thousands of people within an institution and here we are, through technology like Semestry’s TermTime, witnessing real-time change.
A recent poll conducted in the UK by The University and College Union and published in The Guardian, found that four-fifths of staff in universities and colleges are struggling with an increased workload and poor mental health because of the Covid pandemic. Of these, 56% reported increased workloads.
These worrying figures show the dire need for institutions to address these challenges through more mindful timetabling, blended learning and extra pastoral care required of teachers beyond their teaching role meaning they’re being pushed closer to breaking point. At the same time, the need to address the needs of academic staff must be balanced with the needs of designing a top-level curriculum.
There are pros and cons to the institution as things evolve. There is increased pressure for more personal adaptation of the timetable without undermining the value of the campus environment and its role in providing the best learning environment choices and social experiences for students.
Results are similar in the USA. A survey carried out in October by the Chronicle For Higher Education and published in Nature, found that in a poll of 1,122 US faculty members, more than two-thirds of respondents felt fatigued, compared with less than one-third in 2019.
The results, released in March, also showed that over half the respondents were seriously changing careers or retiring early, with eight in ten women claiming the workload had significantly increased and seven in ten men.
The rising demand for highly flexible and mixed modes of learning are, without doubt, putting massive pressure on teaching staff.
Consequently, work-life balance will inevitably deteriorate, and the personal effects of overwork take over. With the use of smarter timetabling systems, we hope this will not be a lasting consequence of the move to more online and blended learning options.
As we move forward through the coming months and years, as learning becomes increasingly ‘blended’ and social, we cannot forget that balance is crucial to the mental wellbeing and retention of teaching staff, because dynamic timetabling is now a more urgent requirement.