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Casual staff ‘overwhelmed’ by online teaching demands

Image: Sardaka [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

University survey finds high levels of stress and anxiety as staff take on extra workload

An online survey of casual academic staff at the University of New South Wales in Sydney has found that “an alarming number” are working unpaid hours to set up online courses for students affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The survey, conducted by the UNSW Casuals Network, also found that 58 per cent of participants were PhD students who were struggling to meet research deadlines and undertake field work because of increased teaching demands.

“Casual workers also need more assistance with, and payment for, the work involved in moving courses online, with this lack of support causing high levels of stress and anxiety,” the survey report says.

“In place of tutorials, casual tutors are being asked to create online content requiring a significant amount of preparation work. This includes time spent learning new technology, scheduling online classes and preparing and presenting new material for reconfigured courses. As casual teaching staff are paid a set amount for each lesson, this extra workload is generally unpaid.”

The network analysed responses from 118 casual academic staff at UNSW. It found that more than 30 per cent had been working as casual staff for more than five years. The majority (54 per cent) were tutors and around a third (34 per cent) were research assistants.

“An alarming number (42 per cent) of casual workers surveyed are not being paid for the additional work they are doing. Of people reporting unpaid hours, 30 per cent are working over 10 unpaid hours every week. A further 13 per cent are unsure whether they will be paid for their work,” the report says.

“The shift to online learning and teaching has created a significant amount of extra work for teachers, student support and administration workers, many of whom are employed casually. Freezes on research budgets have also impacted casual research staff.”

“I am receiving emails every day, including weekends, that I am expected to action,” a participant told the UNSW survey. “My preparation time has tripled, particularly in responding to student emails. I am counselling a large group of students who are highly distressed and am trying to help them navigate technology.”

The report says casual staff felt “overwhelmed by the amount of work involved in moving their courses online”.

“Until last week, I had never heard the words Zoom, Teams, the Box, Blackboard Collaborate or Microsoft Stream and now I am expected to know what they all are in order to be able to select which is most appropriate for my teaching,” a survey participant wrote.

“I worked 75 hours in the last week, most of it unpaid.”