Jump to content
The Education Forum

Email stress


Graham Davies
 Share

Recommended Posts

Here's a good one:

"The Independent Education Union and the National Tertiary Education Union

have made the first industrial claims over so-called email stress. The

former is pursuing a pay claim as compensation for the strains of new

technology. The latter is seeking provision for casual tutors to be paid for answering students' emails."

http://www.ieu.asn.au/news/general/1036473822_27358.html

I don't think it's unreasonable to charge for dealing with emails. I have worked as a consultant to several educational institutions, assisting them to manage EC-funded projects. I made it quite clear from the outset that I would be submitting a monthly worklog and that I would log 15 minutes for dealing with each email that was sent to me. 15 minutes was a good average figure. Most emails just had to be filed for reference but others may have needed an hour's research. It made the project management teams think carefully about sending me irrelevant emails.

See also:

"Email is top cause of workplace stress"

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2001/05/16/email_is_top_cause/

"Emails adding to workplace stress"

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/11/...l?from=storyrhs

"For those who can't remember working life before email, beware:

psychologists warn the technology is now a key cause of job-related

stress."

http://www.careerone.com.au/resources/stor...0-22549,00.html

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We all have to deal with communication that arrives via the 'postal system' both at home and at work. It could be argued that such items also take up a specific amount of our time such as you suggest Graham. We (educationalists) have never, to my knowledge, charged a fee for this. However, solicitors dealing with letters to and from clients do charge a fee per letter. I do not know whether they currently charge for email communications in the same way but it would seem to be a logical extension of their existing practise.

In view of the increasing amount of information that is being sent around via email, however, I can certainly see a very real point in levying a charge to deal with that received in one's professional capacity. Unfortunately I cannot envisage a practical way of doing this for most of us! :rolleyes:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We faced this question when we started designing on-line courses with Internet tutors about 10 years ago. Once the work on a course is broken down into elements, you have to be able to set a 'time limit' on each element (which is the equivalent of giving the element a price tag), or else the amount of work quickly spirals out of control.

The answer we came up with was partly to look very carefully at course design to make sure that we had properly defined (for ourselves as much as the students) what the point of each part of the course was; partly to make realistic assessments of the amount of time it would take tutors to mark each piece of work; and partly to encourage as much peer assessment as possible (reducing the amount of detailed comment from the course team, but also having a strong educational value).

Over the years, we've learned to add 10 hours/30 students to the top of all our estimations, since it seems this is the average amount of unscheduled time it takes us to deal with all the extra contacts on-line courses create.

We keep a close eye on all these estimates in order to make sure that any 'slack' in our allocation of time isn't being transferred on an unpaid basis to Internet tutors. This is good discipline for us - it makes us keep an eye on the educational content of our web-based courses all the time, instead of hoping that the teachers will cover up the design faults by working more without getting paid for it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maggie writes:

However, solicitors dealing with letters to and from clients do charge a fee per letter. I do not know whether they currently charge for email communications in the same way but it would seem to be a logical extension of their existing practice.

Yes, they do – and some accountants adopt a similar practice. At one time my business used a firm of accountants that appeared to be timing everything with a stopwatch, including every phone call that they made to me or that I made to them. The phone calls were itemised, along with everything else, in my annual bill. I finally sacked them, however, mainly because they became very lax in presenting my accounts to the local tax office, but what really annoyed me was that they itemised all the phone calls that I made to them asking why they hadn’t presented my accounts! Needless to say, I refused to pay for this.

Regarding the points that David makes, his institution seems to have tied things up quite nicely. There are many educational institutions, however, that simply perceive e-learning as a cheap option, failing to take proper account of tutors’ time and the new skills that they need to acquire. If e-learning is properly costed then it is not necessarily a cheap option and there is no economy of scale, i.e. it doesn’t get cheaper as the numbers of students increase – because a tutor can only deal with a certain number of students at one time. A maximum of 30 students per tutor has often been quoted as a desirable figure to aim at.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It took us a while to realise that we were very rare in making this kind of calculation of hours/tutor - nearly every other course or institution we looked at worked almost entirely on guesswork.

The point we made successfully right at the start was that Internet tutors need staff support programmes just as campus-based tutors do (remember that we're working in Sweden - the country of 90% union membership). Another of the factors we have developed over the years is that a single tutor should not be tutoring more than 90 students over a 4-month period. The optimal figure looks as if it's around 60.

This, of course, helps us to plan our staffing of tutors - but it's also an expression of the potential for Internet tutoring to be a lonely and asocial job. We need our tutors to contribute to the students' learning experiences in a positive way, and they can only do that if they've got a life of their own. The tutor who's worked with us longest is a freelance music teacher in a small town outside Brisbane. I've often thought that that is the ideal background for an Internet tutor. You need to be able to tell the music student something that will both inspire them and get them to come back for more!

As you can imagine, I am completely unsurprised at the near-total failure rate of on-line courses that are run on a 'shrink-wrapped product + call-centre' basis.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

David writes:

This, of course, helps us to plan our staffing of tutors - but it's also an expression of the potential for Internet tutoring to be a lonely and asocial job.

This is true of distance learning in general, and the students often feel isolated too. My wife Sally did an Open University degree in the 1970s-1980s. It took her 9 years to complete the 8 modules that she required. This was in the days of radio and TV broadcasts (no Web, no email), and lots of printed materials dropping through one's letterbox every month. We could not afford a VCR, so Sally had to get up at unearthly hours to watch the TV broadcasts. The system worked well because there was regular telephone contact with tutors, regular meetings with tutors and other students at local schools and colleges, regular assessment, a one-week summer school each year (where OU students could experience what it felt like to be at a "real" university) - but, above all, because the materials were well designed and aimed at students working on their own. These valuable lessons appear to have been forgotten by some of the institutions that are rushing headlong into what they call e-learning - as David says:

As you can imagine, I am completely unsurprised at the near-total failure rate of on-line courses that are run on a 'shrink-wrapped product + call-centre' basis.

The same applies to online training. The NOF initiative in the UK was to a large extent a failure. The Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) produced a report on the NOF initiative in April 2002: ICT in schools: effect of government initiatives. The report makes important observations on the use of ICT in schools, including a number of successful case studies, but it is generally critical of the NOF training initiative:

"Training funded by the NOF has been effective in a quarter of secondary departments and a third of primary schools. In around six out of every ten secondary departments and half the primaries, the scheme has so far failed to build on teachers’ ICT skills or enable them to tackle pedagogical issues adequately. In a minority of schools, the scheme has acted as a catalyst for improvement." (p.22)

"Many teachers have found online support to be unsatisfactory. This was usually because access was unreliable or because mentors were dealing with too many teachers and their responses were therefore often infrequent, shallow or unhelpful. Successful online mentoring operated at ratios of under 30 teachers to each mentor." (p. 23)

"Some providers experienced major problems with their online systems to such an extent that teachers became frustrated by repeated failure to access their websites. Teachers who were left to their own devices to use distance learning materials on CD-ROM frequently made little headway and did not complete the training." (p. 24)

OFSTED (2002) ICT in schools: effect of government initiatives, Report, April 2002. See the OFSTED website, http://www.ofsted.gov.uk, where the report can be downloaded in PDF format: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/docs/19.pdf

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 7 months later...
David writes:

This, of course, helps us to plan our staffing of tutors - but it's also an expression of the potential for Internet tutoring to be a lonely and asocial job.

This would make a really interesting research project - in terms of time wasted versus productivity!! as we sit in our consumer-driven educational society...

Shame - education ain't wot it used 2 B

:D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...