Ensuring that Teaching is Safe, Accessible, Non-Discriminatory and Effective: Warwick UCU Recommendations for Online Teaching during the Covid-19 Crisis
Warwick UCU is fully supportive of the University’s commitment to maintain student learning by replacing planned contact time with alternative learning provision for the duration of the UK Government’s restrictions. We recognise too that henceforth online learning may become a more central part of our teaching provision as part of a ‘blended’ approach.
We want to ensure, however, that all online learning is developed in a way that gives priority to the learning/working goals and conditions of students and staff. This means that the University needs to consult with the union and departments to ensure that any alterations to our members’ ordinary working conditions are carried out in a sensible and responsible way.
With this in mind, UCU has requested that the University sign a Memorandum of Understanding providing assurances to our members with respect to six main areas of concern, outlined below. We include policy requirements and/or commitments in response to the extraordinary circumstances we face as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure that online teaching is accessible, safe, non-discriminatory, and effective.
1. Health and Safety
We ask that the University prioritises the health and safety of all its staff – which includes protecting staff workloads to avoid stress injuries – by ensuring the following:
- That staff who are at risk, or who live with household members at risk, be given the option to teach fully online, with no requirement to do face-to-face teaching.
- That staff are given proper training and support, and supplied with necessary hardware, software and infrastructure to do their work. Required support includes sufficient paid training for sessional tutors.
- That risk assessments are undertaken for all online teaching.
2. Equality and Diversity
- The University should recognise that equality and diversity issues are at the forefront of its online learning policies. This requires working closely with the Social Inclusion Committee to ensure that those with protected characteristics and caring responsibilities are not subject to adverse discrimination. We welcome the Provost’s acknowledgement that “overall, women tend to have more caring responsibilities, and these may be more time consuming at the present time with the added pressures of factors such as home-schooling and shielding.” In light of this adverse impact, we ask that changes to the length of the working day – which can be used to increase flexibility for all staff, including those with protected characteristics and caring responsibilities – must be carried out sensitively and with proper consultation to avoid both direct and indirect forms of discrimination.
3. Provisional vs. Permanent Changes to Working Conditions
- The University agrees that all online teaching requirements brought into place as a result of the COVID-19 crisis are provisional and temporary, and that any moves to normalise online teaching should be properly negotiated with unions and departments.
- The University pledges not to set up partnerships with private companies aimed at online teaching provision without proper consultation.
- Any new policies will be communicated in a timely manner, giving departments not less than three months where possible, to allow tutors as much time as possible to prepare their teaching in advance.
4. Departmental Autonomy and Academic Freedom
- The University will respect the principles of departmental autonomy by avoiding overly prescriptive regulations concerning contact hours, teaching methodologies and platforms and strategies for delivering online content.
- Timetabling of classes will be carried out by departments to allow maximum flexibility of delivery, particularly where in-person contact is not possible for health and safety reasons.
- The University will not use any temporary moves to online teaching to transform or alter how modules are run within departments. A particular concern here is those departments whose teaching is organised around the provision of smaller modules, and those in which teaching is primarily research-led.
5. Performance and Intellectual Property Rights
The University will take concrete steps to respect the performance and intellectual property rights for new online materials, including the following provisions:
- Extend the Lecture Capture Service Policy to both blended and online teaching.
- Develop a new consent form to account for the activities and materials associated with blended/online teaching that reflects the permissions academics normally grant the university.
- Amend Regulation 28 Paragraph 2(c)(ii)(E) as follows:
– Replace ‘other materials for face to face student teaching’ with ‘other materials for face to face, blended or online student teaching’
- Online instruction should not include requirements regarding the default recording of teaching. While some teachers may record their lectures, recordings can be detrimental to the ethos and goals of interactive classes/seminars. As with lecture capture, recording of teaching sessions should remain opt-in.
- As with lecture capture, online teaching should be limited to “the University’s current students on the University’s access-controlled systems,” in which ‘current students’ refers to the student cohort of a particular module for which the tutor chooses to use lecture capture recordings.
- Where teaching sessions are recorded, such material should not be used for educational provision during industrial action OR after the tutor’s employment at the university ends.
- Where teaching sessions are recorded, such material should not be used for disciplinary or performance management purposes.
- The university should provide a Guide of Conduct for students who receive online teaching that specifically prohibits the self-recording of online teaching sessions and their distribution. Provision for disciplinary action should be included in this agreement where it is violated by a student, unless specific arrangements have been agreed to beforehand by student and tutor.
6. Workloads and the STP/VAM Budget
- Moving teaching online, particularly under conditions of blended learning, requires significant extra labour. This task will be unmanageable if the University attempts to move online while cutting the teaching of those on casualised contracts, including Teaching Fellows, STP and VAM. We thus ask that the University protect STP/VAM budget lines, both to uphold its commitment to protecting jobs, and in the interests of protecting staff workloads (and thereby meeting its health and safety obligations). We would particularly request that the research time of junior colleagues be ring-fenced.
- All extra activity needed to produce online materials should be recognised as part of staff workloads. This activity includes additional work performed over the summer to prepare for online classes in the autumn. We note that the university’s projection of 2 hours per tutor per week as sufficient for preparing online instruction drastically underestimates the time required in most cases. We note as well that these hours are to be taken from academics’ contractual weekly research time, which must be subject to further negotiation.
- Increased teaching loads must be acknowledged in probation and performance management targets and timelines.