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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Reduce Workloads to Ease Students’ Stress: Faculty Insights

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“We should be reaching the same destination but do not [have] to take the same route we did in the past. We need to be flexible and agile, and be willing to put in the effort to change how (we) divert from ‘business as usual.’”

Mostafa also sets aside some class time for students to share any challenges they are facing.

“I have shared with them some of the techniques I use to manage my own workload—like binaural focus music. They are very surprised to hear that faculty are also anxious and stressed, and that we too struggle to do our jobs and balance everything else.”

There are some online tools faculty members can use to gauge the workload they are putting on students. These include the Course Workload Estimator, created by the Center for Teaching Excellence at Rice University, in Texas. The Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Wake Forest University, in North Carolina, created an enhanced version of the calculator that’s well adapted to online classrooms, adding tasks like posting to discussion forums and watching podcasts and videos.

Recognize that workload is not just about how many pages they have to read or write, but about how cognitively challenging the task is. The added stress of the pandemic may mean there is a higher cognitive load on students than in a regular semester. Their reading speed may be slower, they may be more easily distracted, and they may be struggling with time management.

Ahmed Tolba, department of management, is concerned about how students perceive online tasks.

“In terms of workload, if … pre-recorded sessions are over and above the regular classes, students will perceive them as extra workload. I am not too convinced about that, as they would replace pre-reading, for example. But students in general have a harder time online, and such sessions increase their workload perception. I think mentally, they need to interact with other students, so productivity online is lower, leading to this feeling [of higher workload].”

Firas Al-Atraqchi, chair of the department of journalism and mass communication, writes:

“Reduce workload? Absolutely. But I have to stress again that the onus is with us and all faculty. Students will look to us for guidance and support—these are critical.  … But even the smallest effort goes a long way with our students. When [they] see we are trying, they will perk up and reciprocate.”

Let’s Continue to Support Each Other

As we face the probability of another semester of mostly online learning, we need to seriously consider our community’s wellbeing, while also focusing on the learning experience and the achievement of learning outcomes.

This challenge cannot be undertaken without an ongoing conversation between peers, students and leadership. Deans have opened up channels of communication, listening to students and faculty as well as sharing student concerns as we seek out solutions that can make a difference.

Although the task may seem daunting, the choices we have ahead can be much simpler and easier to implement when we work together within our community of learners, that is grounded in communication, empathy and commitment to learning in the era of this global pandemic.

This commentary was curated by Maha Bali and Hoda Mostafa of the AUC Center for Learning and Teaching. If you cite the article, please also include all of the authors: Firas Al-Atraqchi, Ramy Aly, Nellie El Enany, Maurice Hines, Elisabeth Kennedy, Magda Mostafa, Yasmine Motawy, Iman Soliman, Ahmed Tolba and Thomas Wolsey.

Next in this series: Articles on how to encourage students’ participation in online classrooms, and faculty members’ tips on how to make effective videos.

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