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Academic Staff and Remote Instruction

As we all know, in March there was an urgent need to act quickly in responding to the CoVID-19 pandemic which resulted in an almost immediate transition from predominantly classroom-based instruction to entirely web-based instruction in the winter term. The winter semester was not a loss for students or the University thanks largely to the hard work and flexibility of academic staff members. With fully remote instruction continuing into spring/summer 2020, members of the Association are continuing to bear the unexpected additional workload burden associated with remote instruction. Members with significant concerns are encouraged to bring these to our attention.

It’s not clear when we will be able to safely resume classroom-based instruction fully, and with the news that instruction in fall 2020 will be predominantly remote, we have to think the implications of continuing remote instruction for academic freedom, security, and equity.

It is important to note that the Association believes that, outside of deliberately-created on-line programs approved by Faculty Councils, the method of delivery of courses should be left to the academic staff member as part of your academic freedom. Circumstances have forced a temporary adjustment to that, but we believe that post-COVID, you should not lose your right to choose the best method of course delivery. Your rights as an academic haven’t changed in this era of remote instruction – the Collective Agreement and the University of Calgary Intellectual Property Policy remain in force.

While Academic Freedom protects academic staff from actions by the Administration, it doesn’t protect an academic’s reputation in the public realm. While this has always been the case, one should be more conscious of this in an era of online lectures. It’s important to remember that all online activities may be recorded somehow, and these records are difficult to delete and could be reviewed later. Further, the ability for students to record lectures without permission is greater online. Even with the best efforts of academic staff, the teaching platforms, and the University Administration, there’s no guarantee that these records or recordings made of your lectures will not be reviewed or shared someday.

Whether recorded by an academic staff member or by a student, the lecture or other material presented on-line is the intellectual property of the creator and sharing or using that recording without the consent of the creator would be infringing on that person’s intellectual property and copyrights. The University of Calgary Academic Regulations addresses students recording lectures, and instructors might want to draw students’ attention to those policies in their course outlines and/or at the beginning of online lectures.

Worse, in some more controversial lectures, snippets of the discussion could be taken out of context to embarrass or discredit academics. Unfortunately, the University, like most, does not have a great track record when it comes to defending members whose reputations are being targeted by the public, the media, or the Government. Assume that anything you say and do online has the potential to be shared with the public.

While inequities persist at the University of Calgary, they may be less visible and exacerbated when working remotely. The sudden transition to online instruction likely resulted in an increased teaching workload for most members, but the change in workload was not distributed equally as the challenges varied significantly among disciplines and among individual classes. Additionally, there are other unseen factors such as childcare, eldercare, illness, access to resources, and so on, that can result in inequities.

The Faculty Association has negotiated a number of changes to processes already. In particular, all tenure-track academic staff members had their tenure clock extended, provisions were established to allow adjustments for those on research and scholarship leave or about to go on one, and the 2020-21 PER entitlement was opened up early to allow more resources to be available to academic staff when they needed them. Going forward, the Memorandum of Agreement with the Board of Governors establishes that further negotiations will occur given that remote instruction will continue in the Fall; in particular we will be discussing adjustments that will need to be made to the assessment, tenure, and promotion processes and criteria.

Sometimes, having little choice but to adopt new technologies can help us to make significant progress in how we do things. Perhaps, members are becoming more comfortable with online instruction technologies now and will be interested in continuing to use them to enhance learning. However, in most cases, online instruction cannot fully replicate the engagement that’s achieved through in-person instruction. Decisions around online learning must be pedagogically driven/supported and not driven by the need to balance the University budget. As stated earlier, decisions as to how and when academics use online instruction after the pandemic are clearly in the realm of academic freedom and should, therefore, be made by the academics.

Members are encouraged to contact the Faculty Association if they have questions or concerns about the issues raised in this article.

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