A version of this post was originally published in EdTech Magazine, on June 18, 2021.
Teaching is a profoundly caring profession. Just like doctors, nurses, and therapists, teachers deeply impact the lives of all the people they work with. Their jobs come with high moral obligations, as well as a highly regulated work environment. That alone makes any caring profession deserving of the highest respect from society, as such individuals deal with a specific combination of stress factors daily. And just like doctors, nurses, and therapists, teachers have been particularly affected by the global pandemic.
With Covid-19, university closures, and the shift to remote learning, teachers around the world have had to rapidly adapt to the virtual classroom as the only way of providing education. Always willing to do whatever it takes to keep their students on the right track academically, teachers had to quickly become skilled in using various new and complex digital tools. They have gone above and beyond to ensure students receive a high-quality education remotely. Many spend long hours learning how to make the most of the available digital tools and adapting their teaching strategies to the intricacies of the online learning environment.
However, it is important to remember that teachers are not necessarily edtech experts, nor have they had the time and training to get to grips with the latest developments in online teaching. Yet, they all found themselves spending most of their time online. This has inevitably brought along another type of pandemic: digital fatigue. After more than a year of either hybrid or fully remote teaching, and with no guarantee that this year will be different, everyone in the education system has been affected by it in one way or another.
8 Ways teachers can better deal with digital fatigue
When I used to teach, my colleagues and I used to say: If you want to beat the system, you have to know the system first. Likewise, if we are to overcome digital fatigue, or at least minimize its effects on both students and teachers, we have to know what causes it first. Digital fatigue stems from many triggers, which are always combined. We can’t possibly control all of them, only some.
So here are a few tips for Higher Education teachers who are dealing with digital fatigue:
Find your place
First things first, as a teacher, you need a designated space for work. Ideally, this space is a home office with clean walls, a desk, a comfortable chair, and a door that cuts off the rest of the world while you’re working. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and not all of us have home offices. Even when we do, significant others or children may need that space as well. In that case, a small desk in a corner or on the balcony might do the trick. What matters most is to have a specific space for teaching.
Stay on top of online tools
Online tools are good. They enable people to communicate with one another without face-to-face interaction. They enable online education. Without them, your job wouldn’t be possible. However, these tools come in great numbers, and even though many are so tempting to try out, you must always remember that you can achieve the same results with a smaller selection. While it is great to keep an eye on new edtech, not everybody has the time to do so. If this is the case for you, then don’t worry; the tried-and-tested Learning Management System, for example, can truly help you achieve any online teaching objective.
Organize your online sessions
As a teacher, lesson planning is your second nature. The online environment requires even more planning, but it also provides the tools for it. You can always sprinkle some asynchronous lessons here and there and integrate different types of learning activities into your class’ routine. Calendar blocking can help you stay on track with your tasks, and you can use various automation tools to help you streamline processes and save time.
One thing that many teachers have trouble with is saying no. “No” can be a complete answer to a question, a request, or even a new idea. Remember, saying “no” doesn’t mean that tasks won’t be done. You can always turn for help to your teaching assistant, if you have one, but also to your students. Some of them will be happy to assist with some tasks, especially if you compensate for their actions. This will create opportunities for student ownership and for students to reinforce their responsibility and accountability while easing your burden.
Take things one at a time
Always remember that you only have two hands and one head. It’s easy to fall into the trap of multitasking, constantly switching between screens, tools, and tasks, but that will only put you on the road to burnout. If there’s something that this pandemic has taught us, it’s that only the resilient will come out of this stronger and wiser. Delivering education online is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Taking one step after another consistently will get you closer to the finish line.
Turn off your camera from time to time
Video is great, but too much of it is exhausting. Being always on during video conferences with your students can drain your last ounce of energy. You are forced to pay attention to what’s happening on your screen, and you are more aware of how your students perceive you. That’s why you should consider turning off your camera every once in a while and allow your students to do the same. You can actually involve them in the decision to turn off cameras when interacting isn’t so important. For example, this can happen during lectures.
Yes, you have to schedule this, just like you do with your online sessions. If you won’t, nobody will. Self-care means different things to different people, so you don’t need to see it as yet another burden. You can read a few pages, go for a walk, or just buy a small thing that brings you joy. You can also find an online community of teachers that are under the same stressors and share the same challenges, with whom you can exchange tips that can make your teaching lives easier, or simply complain about your work and mental load to people who completely understand you. Whatever you do, just remember that you’re entitled to some me-time every now and then.
Cut yourself some slack
You are a human being, and you are not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone has bad days, and the pandemic doesn’t make anything easier. If you find yourself in a position where you can’t deliver something at your best, don’t fret. Ask for a deadline extension, drop some things off your task list altogether, and be sympathetic with your own situation. Show yourself the same care and understanding that you’d typically show students or other people in your life. Also, consider limiting your screen time as often as possible.
Digital fatigue is real. It can affect everyone working in an online learning environment, and teachers in higher education make no exception. The above tips can help anyone better deal with the negative effects of digital fatigue.
Graham is the CEO and Founder of CYPHER LEARNING and NEO. He is a serial entrepreneur, e-learning enthusiast, published author and educator.