COVID-19 Update – Feb. 22
Message from the Association President
I hope that you had some time to relax over Reading Break.
I’m writing regarding member concerns related to providing accommodations for students who require them in the online environment. The Association has heard both from individual members and through our survey results that, in the online environment, providing required accommodations for students has added significantly to faculty and instructor workload. In a face to face environment, when students require accommodations in writing exams and mid-terms, that has been arranged by CAL, with instructors just having to send the exams to CAL. In an online environment, arranging and invigilating these exams has become part of instructor workload. In addition, the option of having closed captioning available, when such captioning may in some cases be quite inaccurate, has led to increased workload for many instructors at a time when online teaching already increases faculty workload.
The Association made these concerns known to the Administration late last term, and I am very pleased that we have now come to an agreement with the Administration that should reduce faculty workload in this regard. The University’s policy regarding these issues is available on their TeachAnywhere site.
I would encourage you to check the link, but in summary, the main points are:
The Administration now notes that you may now seek additional TA hours for the invigilation of timed exams and midterms for students with academic accommodations. You should ask your Chair or Directors to request this TA funding.
With regard to closed captioning:
- Instructors are not required to review or edit all captioning.
- I am pleased that we have now been told that:
- “In courses where instructors have identified known and persistent issues related to captioning, and/or auto-generated errors that are offensive in nature, instructors may now seek additional TA hours to complete this specific task.”
- You can contact your chair or director to request TA funding.
- Instructors are asked to include a statement in their course site/syllabus noting that captioning is not completely accurate, and telling students what they can do if they find any of the mistakes to be offensive.
- Instructors are also told explicitly that you have the option of turning off closed captioning if other solutions aren’t feasible.
There is also information through this link about the transcription services available to students with approved accommodations for accessing audio content via transcribers. These transcription accommodations should not require additional workload for instructors.
Finally, there is also information about the support now available through LTSI by two new Learning Experience Designers – Accessibility (LED-A) – who can provide assistance in setting up online courses and exams to address the needs of students with academic accommodations. The LED-As can also provide assistance in setting up timed exams and midterms for students who require accommodation in this regard.
The Association is very pleased that the Administration is now providing additional TA funding to assist you in the additional work of addressing the needed accommodations of our students in an online environment.
I realize that this may not be the perfect solution we are all seeking. The Administration is providing additional TA funding to reduce faculty workload, which is much appreciated. But they are clear that they cannot provide enough TA funding to support the editing of all closed captioning, which is why faculty have the option to turn it off, or advise students that there will be inaccuracies.
I want to end by noting, that as we are entering the second half of what is for most instructors and students the second full term of online teaching and learning, that many and perhaps most instructors, students and staff are feeling very stretched indeed. Students and faculty alike are exhausted, overworked, and many are very tired of the online environment, and hoping to return to a face to face teaching and learning when it is safe to do so. As I have said previously, I would encourage those of you who are having difficulty coping right now to contact the Association or your Chair. There are supports available. The workload support toolkit remains available for your review and consideration, and our Membership Services staff, Ben and Reuben, are available to provide further guidance and support. Faculty members also have access to the Employee and Family Assistance Program, which offers free professional counselling.
I want to talk briefly about our students. I know you are committed to them. Our survey reveals that many of you are spending many additional hours providing emotional support for your students in addition to the other extra hours required in online teaching. We appreciate what our Members do in support of our students. I would just ask that you all continue to be sensitive to the additional stresses our students are facing at this time, and provide whatever flexibility you can. As I’m sure many of you are aware, you can direct students to resources for student mental health at https://www.uvic.ca/mentalhealth/.
Finally, I have heard that, given the stress instructors are facing at this time, that some have not been as sensitive to the needs of students requiring academic accommodation as you might have been under normal circumstances. For example, some students have apparently been dismissed as “CAL students.” It’s understandable that there will be frustration with the additional workload created for instructors in providing needed accommodation in an online environment. However, students who require accommodations to succeed academically have legitimate needs.
The Administration has now acted to reduce the additional instructor workload caused by providing legally required accommodations in an online environment. I hope that you will avail yourselves of the TA support provided. If you have any concerns about levels of support, let us know. And I hope that you will all deal responsively with those students in need of academic accommodation, as it is a difficult time for us all. Many of us have needed such accommodation ourselves or have family members who do; it is tremendously important.
All the very best in getting through the rest of term,