In 2020/21 the shift to use technology and digital platforms to teach online worked well for the education sector. Technology played a crucial part in how we lived, learned and worked. Covid-19 transformed how teaching and learning was done, mainly fully online and away from campus. Thinking back there was a lot of data around what students thought of this new online experience but what did teaching staff think at this challenging time about their own digital experiences?
The Digital Experience at Queen’s
At Queen’s we run the Digital Experience Insights Survey for teaching staff. It is part of a national survey to find out how staff use digital technologies and how this affects their experience of teaching. It is a Jisc service, managed and run by staff within Centre for Educational Development (CED), and it complements the student survey that is also run annually at the University.
The survey data helps us to understand how teaching staff experience the digital environment provided by the institution. It provides insights into what access teaching staff have to digital tools and technologies, how they use technology in their teaching and how they are developing their professional practice in relation to digital skills. This helps to inform changes and shape the digital environment.
2020/21 Jisc Survey Questions
This is the second year that the teaching staff survey has ran at Queen’s University. Each year question sets are tailored by Jisc to adapt what is happening in the sector. Not surprisingly, the 2020/21 question set was radically modified and a further change was made that asked staff to focus on the previous two-week period when considering their survey responses. This was so that institutions could (if they wanted) closely track the sensitive changes in data through different periods of the pandemic.
The 2020/21 Jisc survey consisted of 22 questions organised under 4 main themes.
Theme 1: You and your technology
Theme 2: Technology at your organisation
Theme 3: Technology in your teaching
Theme 4: Developing your digital skills
This set of questions asked teaching staff to rate the online environment from a range of perspectives and, to indicate support that is provided such as access to essential services and systems, support to use digital devices and help around effective communication and collaboration in the digital environment. The survey asked staff to share details about where and how they had been teaching online. Questions were included about class size experience, problems encountered, and what assistive devices or tools that they had used to support their teaching.
Staff also had to reflect on their experiences of teaching online and to detail the type of remote teaching activities that they were providing to students at Queen’s. They were asked to identify both positive and negative aspects of this experience and to indicate what improvements could be made to improve the quality of digital learning for students.
Teaching staff had to indicate what digital skills guidance that they received from the University and to judge the quality of support provided. They were asked to identify who mostly supported their digital skills for online teaching and to comment on what would help them to teach more effectively online.
Every year the Universities and FE colleges participating in the Digital Experience Insights service also have the opportunity to ask teaching staff some additional questions. This year questions were included around digital tools that staff were using during the pandemic and what training that they would likely most benefit from. Some pertinent questions were also asked around digital accessibility.
In March and April 2021, over 200 responses to the survey were gathered from teaching staff across 3 Faculties in the University. A very similar percentage of male and female teaching staff participated in the survey (49%) and exactly three quarters of teaching staff who responded were working at Queen’s on a full-time basis. While the majority of teaching staff who responded were in academic positions, in this survey period a fifth of the response was also gathered from teaching assistants.
“Provide a voice for staff to articulate to the students that they are getting more time devoted to teaching than ever before and be articulate to other areas of the university that staff are going above and beyond”
Teaching staff, Queens University
What did the data say?
Some of the main headline findings of the 2020/21 Teaching Staff survey at Queen’s were:
Access – 70% of teaching staff agreed that they had access to online systems and services from anywhere. However, this still meant that 3 in 10 staff had some difficulty when teaching remotely.
Level of support – On a positive note, 66% of teaching staff agreed that they were supported to access online systems and services from anywhere. A similar percentage (64%) indicate that they were provided with effective communication in the digital environment.
Communication and collaboration – 64% of teaching staff think that we communicate effectively online. Less however think that we provide a good online environment for collaboration (43%).
Decision making about digital – Low agreement from teaching staff was found when they were asked if they are given a chance to get involved about decisions about online teaching (27%).
Online teaching challenges – Teaching online presented some challenges for staff. These included technical difficulties (77%) and a significant added stress to workload (72%). A high proportion of teaching staff (74%) also commented how this experience had even ‘changed their role as a teacher’.
Student engagement – Teaching staff were keen that students engage more in online classes, that they actively participate and turn their cameras on. They mentioned the lack of classroom atmosphere, loss of community, not being able to get to know students and the real challenge in the digital environment of how to monitor student progress or those students at risk.
Digital skills enhancement – Some teaching staff appreciate that the move to online learning had enhanced their digital skills and had added to their professional development such as being an online tutor.
Teaching guidance support – Staff want additional training provision and more teaching guidance support. They would like more opportunities for one-to-one or tailored training, more practical demonstrations, drop-in sessions and, for convenience, even training offered outside of teaching weeks. They see this investment in teaching and technology as essential moving forward.
With the onset of Covid-19 and the pivot to teaching online it was more important than ever to gather feedback on digital issues for teaching staff at the University. While staff had these pressures, they were resilient and rose to the challenge. While some teaching staff admit to not liking this mode of learning, others thrived, were innovative and enjoyed the experience.