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During pandemic, UW instructors prioritized students while facing many new challenges, according to surveys

April 22, 2021

UW instructors have responded to the pandemic by redoubling their efforts, spending more time preparing for class, adapting to new technology, and interacting with and supporting their students. And they’ve done so while facing an array of personal and professional challenges that have increased both their workload and their stress levels.

These are the results from two recent surveys conducted by the university. The Office of the Provost conducted a survey of all fall 2020 faculty and staff instructors, and the Graduate School surveyed graduate student teaching assistants (TAs) and lecturer student assistants (LSAs). The faculty and staff instructor survey included questions from previous surveys to allow for comparisons.

“We are deeply grateful for — and somewhat in awe of — what our faculty and staff have done in extremely difficult circumstances. Their commitment to our students has not faltered,” says John Zumbrunnen, vice provost for teaching and learning. “In many ways, the survey results confirm something we already knew: Online teaching is more work, not less.”

More than three-fourths of faculty and staff instructors and 39 percent of TAs and LSAs who responded to the surveys indicated that their workload increased in fall 2020 compared to fall 2019. Further, compared to surveys conducted in 2016 and 2019, both faculty and academic staff instructors indicated that they devoted a higher percentage of their work time to teaching related activities in fall 2020 and a lower percentage to research related activities.

“There are only so many hours in a week,” Zumbrunnen notes. “Faced with difficult trade-offs, our instructors have prioritized their students.”

To help them do so, campus has worked closely with school and college leadership to offer instructors additional support over the past year, including individualized course design and technology support, an array of professional development and training opportunities, and Instructional Continuity Grants.

Eighty-five percent of faculty and staff respondents indicated that their stress levels were higher in fall 2020 than in fall 2019. Sixty-seven percent of graduate student TAs and LSAs reported higher stress levels. Alongside experiencing an increased workload, instructors indicated that they have faced many personal challenges. Two-thirds of faculty and staff respondents and nearly half of TAs and LSAs said that coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, in general, and caring for their own emotional well-being, posed significant challenges for them. Nearly half of faculty and staff respondents also cited caring for their own physical health, caring for children or other family members, and coping with the struggle for racial justice in the United States as challenges.

Zumbrunnen described the results as “a sobering reminder of what we’ve been hearing from instructors and from our entire campus community about the deep and enduring effects of the pandemic.”

“I am deeply appreciative of all of our instructors and the staff who have been helping to support them,” Zumbrunnen says. “We look forward to a return to campus in the fall — but we know our work in supporting instructors is by no means finished.”

View the faculty and staff survey key findings and qualitative report, as well as the TA and LSA survey summary.