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Teaching in a Pandemic: COVID-19 and Faculty Work at San Francisco State University
Executive Summary

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, San Francisco State University suspended classroom instruction on Tuesday, March 10, 2020.  Faculty were granted four working days (March 10 to March 15) to convert their face-to-face classes to remote instruction.  Since Monday, March 16, all instruction at SF State has been conducted remotely. Conducted between March 24 and April 14, 2020, the survey garnered 657 faculty responses, representing more than a third tenure line and lecturer faculty at SF State.   

In general, the survey finds a faculty overwhelmed and exhausted by the COVID-19 crisis.  Few faculty report COVID-19 infections, but most are feeling overwhelmed by health worries, school and daycare closures, work stress, and concerns about their students.  One unique feature of the current crisis is the way that it collapses and re-arranges the distinctions between personal and professional life.  Remote instruction, for instance, combined with new family responsibilities has transformed homes into places where we work, supervise children and dependents, shelter in place, and carry on our usual domestic life – - all of this as rules and guidelines for managing the social spread of the pandemic change weekly. Our survey focused especially on how these conditions are affecting faculty’s ability to carry out their commitments to teaching and learning.

What the survey finds:

The transition to remote instruction has substantially increased faculty workload. Ninety-seven percent (97%) of faculty say that remote instruction has required more labor than classroom instruction with two-thirds (66%) of faculty saying that remote instruction requires “a lot of additional labor.”  The university granted four working days to transition to remote instruction, but most faculty reported spending between 40 and 60 additional work hours to make this transition. This additional labor included: redesigning and planning courses for digital media; learning and practicing new digital modes of instruction; adjusting and fine-tuning pedagogies; adopting new roles; and, balancing family and professional duties. “My workload has doubled,” one respondent stated, “because not only am I spending half my time transferring/synthesizing my notes on PowerPoint slides, the other half is spent recording the lectures, updating iLearn pages, and grading for five classes.”  Less quantifiable but equally important, faculty reported new demands on their emotional labor as they worked to coach, encourage, and support their students.  Faculty agree that sustaining remote instruction will involve ongoing investments of more labor time.

University support for remote instruction is not adequate. Half of SFSU faculty were not satisfied with the university’s IT support.  Over seventy-five percent (75%) report that they lacked essential resources – - software, equipment, coaching – - to continue to be effective “remote” teachers.  A fifth of faculty cite internet connectivity as a barrier to teaching effectiveness.  Many faculty reported that they had been forced to purchase their own equipment and other resources to continue their work.  Faculty also stated that new family responsibilities posed a significant barrier to these increased new work demands.

Faculty are concerned with the academic quality of remote instruction. Two-thirds of faculty do not believe that remote instruction offers the same educational value as classroom teaching and learning.  Eighty-six percent (86%) of faculty report significant attrition rates for students in their classes, with a third of faculty reporting that less than half of their students were participating in their classes.  “Students lack motivation,” one respondent noted,  “many have lost their jobs and also have kids at home.”  Over half of faculty (55%) believe that students are not satisfied with remote instruction – - only twenty percent (20%) of respondents were confident or somewhat confident that students were satisfied with their online classes.

What is to be done?

Obviously, some factors affecting SF State’s abrupt transition to remote instruction are beyond the university’s control.  However, based on our survey, if the university aims to maintain quality higher education through remote instruction, it should:

Recognize that new teaching and learning modalities require more time and labor.  Redesigning and rethinking courses for online teaching, transferring materials and practices into digital media, learning new tools, coaching students through new ways of learning – - these and other new activities require more labor time. Smaller course sections, stipends, assigned time, and increased WTUs (weighted teaching units) individually or in combination will begin to address the exorbitant increases in faculty labor time created by remote instruction.

Supply faculty with all resources necessary to teach as effectively as possible.  This includes material resources (such as enhanced internet connectivity, software, digitization, equipment, etc.) as well as stronger technical support and coaching.  Faculty either know or are learning what they need to teach effectively; decisions about support should be directed by faculty. 

Re-organize faculty work to meet new configurations of professional and personal responsibilities.  Faculty who must now care for at-home dependents cannot be expected to also meet the usual requirements of pedagogical, scholarly, and service productivity.  Faculty cannot easily manage spaces that were designed for domestic life but now must also serve as offices, classrooms, and advising centers.  The university should use reassigned time to ease these burdens for all faculty, including lecturer faculty.     

Take better care of students.  SFSU faculty members are famous for their commitment to their students, many of whom are first-generation college-goers and/or come from under-served communities of color, ethnicity, and class.  Remote instruction cannot substitute for the campus and classroom-based connections central to our students’ development and success.  In this exceptional moment, faculty cannot be the sole support for our students.  Effective teaching and learning will depend on the university doing more to reach out to students to address their concerns, to provide food, housing, and financial support, to address their mental health needs, to mitigate digital divides, and to develop new modes of community and caring.     

About the survey. Concerned with the effects of this radical transformation of teaching and learning, the SFSU Chapter of the California Faculty Association surveyed faculty about the university’s shift to “remote instruction.”  The survey was conducted between March 24 and April 14, 2020.  The survey asked faculty to respond to 27 questions, most related directly to the faculty’s ability to transition to and sustain remote instruction but several related to faculty well-being, university communication, and the union’s response to remote instruction.  

Over one-third of SFSU faculty (657 out of approximately 1800 tenure/tenure track and lecturer faculty) responded to the survey.  Fifty-two percent (52%) of respondents who reported their position were tenure/tenure track faculty; forty-eight percent (48%) were lecturer faculty.  About sixty percent (60%) of respondents identified their college; faculty in the College of Science and Engineering, the College of Liberal and Creative Arts, and the College of Ethnic Studies were the highest responders. 

SFSU CFA members involved in designing, creating, distributing, and analyzing the survey include: Brad Erickson, Lecturer Faculty, School of Humanities and Liberal Studies; Veronica Sovero, Asst. Professor, Economics; Oscar Jerome Stewart, Asst. Professor, Center for Ethical and Sustainable Business Management;  Larry Hanley, Professor, English; Blanc Missé, Asst. Professor, Modern Languages; Jordan Nielsen, Librarian, J. Paul Leonard Library.

For more information about the survey, contact Larry Hanley at cfa_sf@calfac.org

You can see a copy of the full report by clicking here.

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