World against COVID-19. Our colleagues' thoughts about the situation: Nada Kakabadse

April 03, 2020

Online learning creating mixed pressures for academics

The Covid-19 forced leap into online teaching is challenging many academics on personal and professional levels, says Nada Kakabadse, Professor of Policy, Governance and Ethics at Henley Business School.

Working from home used to be a privilege reserved only for the semi-retired, home-makers, the self-employed, or freelancers such as consultants, journalists, writers, graphic-designers and public relations agents.

Covid-19, however, has now made this practice the new norm for white-collar workers, just like so many others who are being forced to socially distance and self-isolate from the rest of the world.

For some, not having to face long commutes or overcrowded public transport is a small mercy, while for others being put out of daily routines and disconnected from family, friends and work colleagues is becoming a source of high anxiety.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, universities have had to make up ground by rapidly transitioning onto online learning platforms such as Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom, SeeSaw, YouTube, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger, to name just a few.

This leap from physical to virtual classroom has been unexpected, abrupt and in many cases represents unfamiliar territory, especially for academics who are accustomed to interacting with their students in person.

“What is going on? I may like watching sci-fi movies, but not being in one. It's too quiet. I'm having problems using my smartphone for emails. I don't have broadband and am waiting to see if my office will supply me with a dongle for my laptop or else I'll have to buy one.”

Many report that online teaching is proving an uncomfortable and daunting experience, particularly when there are so many prominent examples of those who seem perfectly at ease with this new world, and who’s subjects are perhaps more naturally suited to video exchange.

“I'm finding it really hard to deal with working alone with no one to bounce ideas off of. I miss meeting up with my friends.”

“I love having nobody to distract me; no travelling and no boss in sight.”

A good number of lecturers - and students - who have not previously engaged online say they are feeling concerned and uncertain about detached e-communication. Becoming comfortable with this can prove time-consuming and unnerving for many, who at the same time are managing isolation and loneliness.

“Working 12 hours-a-day, as my students are in many different time zones, while minding my toddler and home-educating my other child is quite tricky and exhausting.”

“All safe and well here thankfully, though considering both my partner and I are working in the same space for the first time the peace and harmony may run out fairly soon.”

This small sample represents a pool of academics facing up to being cut-off by Covid-19.

They range between reporting a sense of alienation, not helped by a lack of basic equipment, through to those struggling to thrive without face-to-face contact, individuals at pains to balance work demands with home life, and others actually experiencing greater productivity through their newfound isolation.

We are all experiencing current circumstances differently owing to our varied expectations and sensitivities towards feeling alone or cut-off from professional responsibilities and social comforts.

As illustrated by my higher education colleagues, so much of how we react depends on our varying needs for socialisation and how we can come to terms with the present situation:

“I had a terrible day yesterday, and if it was not for my lovely friend ringing me when I was sending him desperate texts, I don’t think I would have made it. He literally saved my life.”

“During all of these very difficult days I’m reflecting on many things. I decided to start studying, writing and sharing articles about trust.”

“Increasing self-isolation is becoming tedious. I was fortunate to borrow a potter’s wheel to keep busy for a while, but how long this will last?”

A daily 30-minute video chat with family and friends will be sufficient to meet the social needs of some, while for others spending up to four hours in online forums is tolerable. At the further end of the chain are those hosting eight hours of yoga classes daily and enjoying every minute of it.

Clearly there are also a number of people who find being online a deeply dissatisfying experience which is contributing to feelings of frustration, resentment or outbursts of anger. As well as deep feelings of loneliness, isolation can lead some towards greater alcohol consumption, drug-and even thoughts of suicide.

Irrespective of your personal social needs at this difficult time, if you receive any messages requesting help or that sound desperate, please contact those in need through whatever means are available. You might just save someone from the edge of mental collapse or worse.