Flawed solutions: Hybrid learning advocacy needs to take professor labour into account

Universities are already precarious workplaces for teachers

Professors already face long hours and large workloads, and hybrid learning could worsen this. Photo: RODNAE Productions / Pexels

By Meera Eragoda, Editor-in-Chief

If you’re in the SFU student groups on Facebook, you may have seen a petition calling for SFU to implement hybrid learning. Its two main demands are to mandate the recording of lectures and tutorials and for instructional staff to have both in-person and online options for lectures, tutorials, and office hours. Students who want to learn in-person can, and students who can’t, don’t have to. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, maybe on the surface. In reality, none of this takes into account the structure of universities or the pressure on professors and TAs.

It’s been well-recognized that universities treat most staff as dispensable and most positions are untenured. Teaching positions — including TAs — are underpaid, overworked, and lack job security. Implementing hybrid options means adding onto the workload of instructors, likely without increasing pay or adding additional support and resources. To petition for hybrid learning without collaborating with teaching staff risks working towards an unsustainable goal, hurting the initiative.

As one anonymous SFU professor writes in The Mainlander, hybrid learning entails “piling-on the work for the most precariously employed instructors and deepening the divide between classes of students while increasing revenue streams.” Additionally, they explain that hybrid learning requires two different lesson plans to ensure both those joining online and in-person are appropriately engaged.

Though it’s possible for some classes to run in a hybrid style, it’s not a simple solution across the board. In a Facebook post, another SFU professor outlines a number of issues: educational and privacy concerns, a limit to the ability to plan lessons, and the devaluation of teaching labour. They added that teaching goes beyond creating recordable lectures, extending to experiential learning and more. They write, “Many of us have spent years of our lives on the prep work and skills involved in developing truly engaging and meaningful in-person teaching methods.”

Teachers have talked about how hybrid learning means having to split their attention, giving neither group enough care due to a lack of infrastructure. Students have commented on how this will result in a lower level of education for an already high cost of tuition. In the thread, one student added their experience with hybrid learning setting was disruptive, and seemed to place excessive strain on the professor. 

Despite the uncertainty in course formats this semester, SFU has done the bare minimum for student safety, while refusing to implement tangible supports — such as extending deadlines for tuition and course withdrawals. Additionally, SFU seemingly decided students didn’t have enough precarity to face with a pandemic, increasing tuition twice. 

Amidst tuition increases and issues with the return-to-campus plan, it makes sense that students are advocating their own solutions. But it’s important to keep in mind that SFU cares equally little about its teaching staff.

If hybrid learning (as opposed to more remote options) will make things more equitable, then we should pursue it. But such discussion should include students and teaching staff working together to advocate for better conditions for all. Not doing so only has one result: the padded pockets of university administrators at the expense of the rest of us.

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