From education to employment

Pandemic has fundamentally changed role of teachers, new surveys show

Heidi Fraser-Krauss, CEO, Jisc

Thousands of college and university staff say the pandemic has fundamentally changed their role as teachers following the move to online learning, according to two new surveys published today (Monday 29 November 2021) by Jisc, the UK’s digital body for education.  

The UK-wide poll of over 6,500 teaching staff in further and higher education and carried out during a time of national lockdown also reveals stark concerns from staff over their wellbeing, access to technology and digital skills.

Jisc’s annual surveys of digital experience insights from teaching staff find that while more than two-thirds of teachers (67% FE and 66% HE) were offered support with online teaching during the pandemic, a significant majority (65% FE and 73% HE) said this added significant new stress to their workload, leading to anxiety and exhaustion. 

The reports also show that teaching online created technical challenges for most staff (83% FE and 82% HE), with many experiencing problems on multiple occasions. Not all respondents were able to access the online systems and services they needed, with over half of them having wifi issues (52% FE and 51% HE). Both FE and HE teaching staff also expressed concerns about having access to appropriate equipment.  

The surveys further reveal only half (50% FE 44% HE) of teaching staff received guidance about the digital skills needed in their role, with just 30% and 15% (FE and HE respectively) saying they had an assessment of their digital skills and training needs. Many also said they were not given enough time to explore new digital tools (36% FE and 55% HE), with more than two-thirds (67% HE only) feeling they were not rewarded and recognised for the digital skills they had to develop. 

Heidi Fraser-Krauss, new CEO of Jisc, said: 

“These insights allow both Jisc and the tertiary education sector the opportunity to reflect and learn lessons from the past 18 months about what worked, and what needs rethinking to deliver a world-class, technology-enhanced educational experience.

“With the enforced move to online learning, staff had to rapidly rethink how they delivered teaching. Though staff rose to the challenge, many found it difficult, especially in an environment demanding more and new digital skills. Staff found themselves trying to manage an increased workload, support learners with technical issues at the same time as delivering high-class teaching. Unsurprisingly, for many this led to exhaustion, stress and anxiety. 

“As we move towards established models of hybrid learning, we have an opportunity to transform education through technology. For this to work, a digitally confident, digitally skilled, well-supported and involved teaching community is critical.”

Despite the challenges reported in the survey, more than three-quarters of teaching staff (78% FE and 84% HE) rated the quality of online and digital learning to students as above average, with many (from both FE and HE) reporting positive experiences of teaching online from increased productivity to improved work-life balance to engagement with less confident learners. 

The reports recommend collaboration between the FE and HE sector with both Jisc and the government, to develop the digital infrastructure that enables teachers to access the right technology and equipment to deliver learning. The HE report also calls for a greater engagement from universities with teaching staff, with a focus on more training, guidance and personal support for wellbeing as well as for the digital capabilities to teach, assess and counsel students online.

Methodology: The digital experience insights survey for teaching staff in higher education was conducted between October 2020 and July 2021. It received 3,729 responses from 24 universities and one college delivering higher education. 18 of these organisations were based in England, three in Wales, three in Northern Ireland and one in Scotland. The 25 participating organisations represents 9% of all higher education providers in the UK. The highest response rate from a single HE organisation was 406 teaching staff (17% of their total teaching staff population), and the overall average response rate was 149 responses per organisation. On average, around 19% of the total teaching staff population in each organisation responded. Six of the 25 organisations contributed fewer than 50 responses. The 2020/21 digital experience insights surveys focused on online teaching, learning and working. In this survey, we asked teaching staff to respond to the questions based on their experiences in the two weeks immediately prior to taking part.

The digital experience insights survey for teaching staff in further education was conducted between October 2020 and July 2021. It received 2,822 responses from 29 colleges/sixth form colleges. This represents 11% of all colleges in the UK (excluding Wales). FE colleges in Wales did not take part in this specific survey this year as they were participating in a different digital experience insights survey as part of a separately commissioned Welsh Government initiative. 26 of these participating college were based in England, two in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland. The highest response rate from a single FE organisation was 328 teaching staff (19% of their teaching population), and the overall average response rate was 97 responses per organisation (on average, around 31% of the total teaching population in each organisation).

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