Workloads in the academic world are sky high. Professors have to combine research with education. And sometimes their students are then becoming an eyesore, especially when they are giving them more of a headache instead of energy. Univers decided to let students brainstorm about how they would be able to reduce their lecturers’ workload. This resulted in six solutions (that will be discussed later on).
Grant applications, administration, educational accountability, writing and publishing; those are just a few things of everyday educational life that often lead to high stress levels among professors. Working on weekends, in the evenings and during holidays is no longer the exception. The ongoing pressure to publish and all hours spent on grant applications are issues that might be too difficult to be resolved by students, but they can still do a lot to help alleviate a teacher’s educational and administrative burden.
But why is it that lecturers experience so much working pressure? What are the truly painful areas? Joep Paumen, graduate student of Supply Chain Management at Tilburg University and student assistant for that same program, does have an idea about this: “I see a vicious circle here. Professors are busy and stressed out, hence communicate less well or respond to an email only weeks later and then make mistakes or miss opportunities to solve problems in due time. This in turn causes extra working pressure; the circle repeats itself.” As an example, Joep mentions midterms and exams that contain errors. Lecturers often assemble them too hastily. “When students complain, the teacher has to find a solution and communicate it to the students. That takes time and gives additional headaches,” says Joep.
Time for solutions
1. Use the Blackboard forum
Students may have the best intentions, but often unknowingly burden the teacher with a lot of extra work. A student sends an email with a question about the previous lecture. Half an hour later another student mails, asking the same question. The teacher feels forced to answer both, but it’s not really efficient. It surprises Joep that lecturers have to keep answering more or less identical questions over and over again. “In the end, when flooded with emails, lecturers often turn to blackboard to answer those questions via an announcement. Definitely more efficient, but part of the questions still doesn’t get answered that way.” Barbara Ruijs, a master student of Tax Law at Tilburg University, also doesn’t understand why students and lecturers don’t use the blackboard forum. “It’s a handy tool because students can ask their question there, rather than by e-mail. Lecturers can help multiple students in one go, or students can answer each other’s questions.”
2. Use FAQ and refer to the study guide
Joep adds that, if necessary, a list of FAQs can be drawn up, including a reference to the particular study guide. This way a large number of questions can be avoided: “This method is successfully used everywhere on the Internet in order to reduce the number of phone calls and e-mails, so why not do it that way here as well?”
3. Let students take over work from lecturers
Rosa de Weert studies Organizational Sciences and is general manager of the political student group ‘Front’. As a member of the participation council she’s occupied with the workload among professors and lecturers. She advocates more graduate teaching assistants and working students: “Students could take over a teacher’s administrative tasks. Lecturers could then focus on their core business.”
Such administrative tasks are for example: making a PowerPoint presentation, preparing training exercises or taking over communication via blackboard. According to Joep, these kind of tasks are not that time-consuming, but the problem lies in the regularly occurring peaks. Or lecturers are doing so much work simultaneously that a simple extra task like making a PowerPoint becomes just one burden too many. Joep: “A teaching assistant can act as a point of contact as well, to answer other students’ questions, as far as possible. He or she can also pick up matters that are still on hold or progress too slowly. My Academic Director, for whom I am working as a teaching assistant, has the idea of modifying the training program but lacks the time to work out the details. So that’s what I’m doing now.”
4. Customize exam formats
And then there’s also such a thing as assembling midterm exams, and checking and grading those afterwards. Should we maybe alter the current format? Barbara has noticed that lecturers of her study program (Tax Law) sometimes have to check up to ten pages per student per exam. “What if you try to reduce the size of the exams and test students several times on a smaller scale during the semester? For example, by having them prepare a presentation about the course material? Or you could also use teaching assistants to check midterms and exams.”
5. Video and guest lectures
Also helpful, according to law student Barbara, are video lectures: “Especially in my bachelor’s I’ve repeated quite a few courses. Often these lectures are literally the same as the previous year. You could record them and put them online, so that lecturers don’t have to give the same lectures over and over again. Of course, this is only suitable for subjects that are combined with tutorials or practical seminars; otherwise students will no longer be able to ask questions.”
The preparation of the lectures also takes up a lot of time. Barbara thinks that you can kill two birds with one stone by having practitioners give guest lectures: “The teacher doesn’t have to prepare that particular lecture and in addition students get a taste of business practice. I’ve got the feeling that many students have a need for that. So in the case of Tax Law you could, for instance, let a tax advisor give a guest lecture about fiscal consultancy. And a few weeks later you could ask someone from the Tax Administration to tell about specific tax issues.”
6. Reward hiqh-quality education
Daphne van Os studies law and is chairman of the political student group ‘SAM’. Like Rosa (of Front) she’s concerned with the workload of lecturers. She believes that more attention should be paid to facilitating and rewarding high-quality education: “As long as this is not the case, no one will be flying high. Education isn’t as highly valued as research, in spite of the fact that universities primarily serve an educational purpose. The solution is therefore to pay more attention to facilitating and rewarding quality education.”
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