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From: Beth McMurtrie
Subject: Teaching: What Really Helps With Burnout? A New Project Investigates.
This week I:
- Tell you about an effort to make STEM instruction more inclusive and antiracist.
- Invite you to attend the first session in our new Keep on Teaching webinar series next week.
- Pass along some recent reading material you may have missed.
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This week, I:
- Tell you about an effort to address burnout in higher ed.
- Share more stories on higher ed’s response to ChatGPT.
- Remind you of a teaching forum Beckie and I are hosting this week.
Creating a Caring Campus
When the pandemic hit nearly three years ago, faculty and staff shifted into overdrive to get their students — and themselves — through some of the most challenging situations they had ever faced. And they’ve been operating in high gear ever since.
While much of that effort paid off, what we’re left with is a record-high level of burnout, one that has led many people to question the long-term viability of higher education. Plenty of observers have offered ideas on how to mitigate these challenges, of course. That will soon include the work of an ambitious new project supported by the Mellon Foundation, Pedagogies, Communities, and Practices of Care after COVID-19, which has brought together 36 experts, led by a history professor, to come up with concrete steps that leaders can take to improve working conditions in colleges across the country.
Cate Denial, chair of the history department at Knox College, a teaching expert, and author of a forthcoming book titled A Pedagogy of Kindness, is coordinating with representatives from a range of institutions — regional publics, community colleges, and flagship research universities among them — to collaborate on recommendations. And the expertise in the room, she says, is vast — including people with backgrounds in teaching, disability issues, spiritual life, and online pedagogy — and reflects a range of cultural and racial backgrounds.
Bringing together such a diverse group was intentional, she says. If higher education is to regain its strength, it has to do so by creating communities and practices that support all of the people who work within it, in a way that binds them together. And that represents a sea change from where higher education is now.
“Academia is very much built on a system of antagonism and the presumption of distrust,” Denial says. “We want to move it to a system where we presume trust in one another, which creates an entirely different framework in which we’re all operating and one that is much more humane.”
Round one of this project has just wrapped up. Participants were divided into three groups. One focused on recognizing and responding to trauma. Another looked at disability and ableism. Another considered sustainable pedagogies of care. They all came up with recommendations.
In phase two, members have been reorganized into groups focused on different institution types, to see how the recommendations could be implemented at say, a community college or a research-intensive university.
The work should be finalized this summer, says Denial, who pointed readers to this website to help track results. But she was willing to share some preliminary ideas from phase one:
- Rather than require employees to spend a minimum number of hours on campus, colleges should shift to flexible work in and out of the office.
- Allow for greater flexibility on how professional development is done. Rather than holding campuswide events, let employees tell you what would be meaningful and helpful to them.
- Support communities of different types: contingent faculty, tenure-track and tenured, for example, along with LGBTQIA and faculty of color. “These things sound so obvious,” says Denial, “but they are not happening except in some really great places.”
- Make sure the recognition of pedagogy is actually built into mentorship and career development and rewarded. And that includes staff who teach, such as those who work in a writing center.
- Change the way people apply for promotion. Rather than demand enormous documents that few people will read, create a more streamlined process.
- Put contingent faculty at the center of planning for pedagogical development when considering available time, agency and power. They are, after all, now the majority of those who teach.
Travis Chi Wing Lau, an assistant professor of English at Kenyon College, was on the working group focused on disability and ableism. Lau, who is disabled and teaches disability studies, noted that when colleges talk about disability and accommodations, they often refer exclusively to students. Faculty and staff, he says, “are dropped out of the conversation,” a problem the group hopes to change.
“What really disturbs me is the ways in which student-centered learning becomes weaponized against faculty who are least able to do that work,” he says. Faculty and staff are asked to accommodate particular learning needs, without attention to their own challenges of accessibility. That paradox, he says, is at the heart of what the project can address.
Like Denial, Lau hopes to shift the conversation away from individual needs toward a collective focus on the larger culture. To that end, his group is working on a tool kit that administrators and departments can use to think about accessibility and care for everyone.
Do you have specific, practical ideas on how colleges can improve care for faculty and staff that will alleviate burnout? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and your suggestions may appear in a future newsletter. Beckie and I are also tackling the topic of faculty burnout in a virtual forum in February. See below for details.
More on ChatGPT
The conversation around ChatGPT continues. I’ve rounded up some news stories and academic takes for you to consider as you figure out what it means for your teaching.
- Kalley Huang of The New York Times interviewed more than 30 faculty members, students and administrators to find out how they’re responding to this new tool in their teaching, assignments and academic-integrity policies.
- Chris Marsicano, an assistant professor of educational studies and public policy at Davidson College, shared his ChatGPT policy for his spring 2023 courses. In short, he doesn’t ban the technology but requires students to cite it when they use it.
- Morton Ann Gernsbacher, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has shared her ChatGPT assignment, which includes background reading, exercises in critical thinking when using ChatGPT, and using a ChatGPT detector.
Have you found any useful guides, policies or assignments around ChatGPT? Send them to me at email@example.com and they may appear in a future newsletter. You can also drop me a line if you still have questions around ChatGPT and I can see if I can find some answers.
Keep on Teaching
If you’re reading this on Thursday, there’s still time to sign up for the virtual forum that Beckie and I are moderating on Friday, January 20 at 2 p.m. Eastern, on how instructors can improve engagement in their classes. And if you missed it, you can still register to watch a recording.
It’s the first session of Keep on Teaching, our new, two-part webinar series. We will continue the conversation in the newsletter, and in a second event on Friday, February 10. Please feel free to email me and Beckie at the addresses below with your thoughts on either event.
The second webinar is exclusively for Teaching-newsletter subscribers, so please sign up to get us directly in your inbox. And tell your friends! Both the newsletter and the webinar series are free. Read more about the series and sign up here. We hope to see you then!
Learn more about our Teaching newsletter, including how to contact us, at the Teaching newsletter archive page.