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Danish academics with kids struggle to work remotely


Concern over widening competitiveness gap as childless find more time for research

University lecturers and researchers in Denmark are largely coping with working from home due to the coronavirus lockdown, but those with children are struggling, according to a survey.

The survey, undertaken by Magisterbladet, a Danish magazine for educators and academics, questioned union members of Dansk Magisterforening, the Danish Association of Master’s and PhD students. It asked how respondents were doing under strict conditions to limit social contact in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

The general feedback was that staff with children at home were having a hard time. Some even worried about falling behind on their work or losing their competitive edge due to the added pressure of combining work and childcare.

Simon Kristensen, associate professor and union representative at the maths department of the University of Aarhus, said the situation was “not much fun” for colleagues who struggled to focus at home. This team was regularly meeting up to discuss the situation via video conferencing.

“My impression is that people at my institute are just about managing,” he told the survey. “I have colleagues who have their kids running around while they are trying to educate their students online, and they’ve found it very hard.”

Martin Klatt, associate professor and health-and-safety representative at the University of Southern Denmark, also mentioned a discrepancy between colleagues with and without young children. “My colleagues with young children, and especially single parents, are totally stressed out and cannot cope with anything,” he said.

The situation left many academics in doubt over whether they were able to deliver the quality their students expected. Some openly said they struggled to teach well with children in the house.

“Although management does not explicitly require them to be perfect, the lecturers nonetheless feel pressure—it’s only natural,” said Klatt.

The situation is compounded by the fact that staff without children seemed to embrace the flexibility that comes with working from home. Klatt added that many reported they were finding more time for core research activities without the added pressure caused by meetings, workshops and having to attend conferences—which opens further gaps in competitiveness between individuals.

“There are, of course, limitations, such as access to books and archives, and we spend a good deal of time restructuring our teaching process, but this is a great time to learn remote teaching, which will stand us in good stead,” he said.

Rikke Toft Nørgård, an associate professor of information technology didactic design at Aarhus University, is one example. She has researched, developed and taught online teaching for the past six years, and now works on a training platform that helps academics deliver their courses virtually. 

The platform was not due to be completed until 31 March, but had to be implemented earlier because of coronavirus. Now, 30 IT and teaching staff are available to provide tech support to lecturers and students.

Nørgård said the team had been expecting a few hundred visitors to the site, but that there had been several thousand accesses of the system, as a “huge number” of educators faced major technical and practical problems.

“It’s not about being an expert in teaching online, but about giving them some tools for their teaching to survive,” she said. “The question is how do they do it easiest, fastest and with the fewest problems.”