Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Classrooms across campus have traded their bustling conversations of students and professors for quiet study spaces.

October 21, 2020

Professors Find More Work, Less Balance in Online Teaching

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For professors, a typical semester would typically mean planning lectures, conducting research and raising a family. But in the age of coronavirus, homeschooling children, adapting classes to be online and wrangling students to pay attention through Zoom represent new challenges to what was already a demanding job.

As students struggle through Zoom fatigue, increased anxieties and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, professors join them in managing a heavier burden. For teachers, not only do virtual calls require an uncomfortable “constant gaze,” but trying to convey information over video adds to a sense of perpetual exhaustion.

“I definitely have a sense of fatigue, it goes both ways. Not only do we teach that way, but we’re in meetings all day as well; so we’re on Zoom kind of all the time just like you guys are,” said Prof. Drew Margolin, communication.

To lessen this effect on her students, Prof. Claire Ménard, French, reduced a class that would typically meet five times a week down to three days, filling the other two days with asynchronous assignments and activities.

Complicating matters, Ménard coordinates that class — FREN 1210: Elementary French, a four-credit introductory course — while on parental leave to care for her newborn child.

That task involves recording lectures, being available for office hours, making lesson plans and posting class material on Canvas — the workload is designed to be 50 percent of a typical full-time teaching schedule.

However, for Ménard, the unique demands of virtual teaching expanded her workload to be closer to 70 percent of her full-time duties.

“I could just work 50 percent, but my work would not be as good, and I don’t want to disappoint the people I’m working with,” she said. “I’m trying to protect everybody — but I think that it’s to the detriment of my time and my health.”

Ménard attributed much of the tendency for faculty and students at Cornell to overwork themselves to the University’s culture — that being at Cornell, everyone is used to the expectation that they have to “work like crazy,” inhibiting them from listening to their own emotions.

“I’m hoping that after this crisis, we’re going to have a change of culture at Cornell. I think that’s what we need right now,” Ménard said.

It’s not just the heavier workload that has challenged some faculty, but the remote nature of it too. Without a clear distinction between work and home, once simple distractions — like walks across campus — have largely been lost.

“For me, it’s the sedentary nature of it. I’m not exercising nearly as much as I would have been,” Margolin said. “My means of exercise are no longer allowed, so I’m just sitting in this chair all day long.”

“And that’s not healthy, especially as you get older, you need to move around and take care of yourself, and I have not been thinking about it. It’s more like, go do each day and get through each day,” he continued.

Working from home has blurred the lines between the two, leaving professors feeling like each day is left unfinished after spending multiple hours desk-bound in the same location.

“It’s like this hamster wheel that never breaks, you’re running all the time, and in the old world, it was discrete,” Margolin said. “I did what I had to do today, and I went home. But now it’s all just one day, it’s all one cycle.”