I'M VERY HAPPY to be revitalised every day I'm in front of clever third level students in Ireland but I know I'm teaching too many contact hours. I'm less effective, my assessment schedule has to fold over into my weekends, and traveling 52 miles one way as part of my timetable is not ideal. Now hundreds of other third level lecturers agree and they've told the Irish government the hours have to return to where they were before fiscal austerity ripped through Ireland.
Members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) in the Institute of Technology sector have voted overwhelmingly in a national ballot (by a margin of 96% to 4%) to engage in a campaign of industrial action over unsustainable workload. It's an important statement of intentions. In my case, it means that instead of carrying 19 hours per week next September I should be able to draw a line around the number 16. Sixteen contact hours delivered during one week normally means 45 work hours for me. I spend between two and three hours of preparation and assessment for every contact hour. I have between six and 26 students in three hour blocks of time.
For the past two years, under national agreements, I could be told to carry two additional hours. In one case, I carried seven additional hours across three separate physical locations. It was not a good thing for students, for the administrators, and for my family life.
Under a 2016 agreement between the TUI and the Department of Education and Skills, one of the two additional ‘flex’ hours was re-designated to duties within contract other than teaching/lecturing. Today, that means I supervise fourth year students during the preparation of their dissertations and projects.
In March 2017, I was supposed to have recouped the second ‘flex’ hour that I was working but that never happened and like many lecturers, I carried the load.
This is unsustainable because the only way I can teach in an evolving creative media curriculum--one that must iterate every year--is for me to revise and iterate my learning materials. When I carried more than 19 hours during a single semester, I had to step back, reduce the depth of learning, and accept the fact that my students were not receiving the quality of education demanded of new entrants to the smart economy.
On top of working longer and driving greater distances to serve three separate campuses, I've watched severe cuts to funding erode the high tech dimension of our creative environments. I personally bought a 400 euro Ricoh 360 camera for one of my modules because there was no funding for equipment in one of our pots. Two years ago, I bought a 1500 euro DJI Phantom 3 Pro to use on two modules because competing priorities meant we needed money to refit a computer lab. So pressure on teaching hours is not the only stress point in funding high quality education in Ireland.
Locally, one of our degree programmes is rolling up shop and that means I could easily reduce my workload simply by the timetable atrophy and thus remain within 16 hours. But discontinuing third level degree programmes is hardly a smart move when numbers of Leaving Cert graduates continue to rise.
I'll update my blog when I get my teaching schedule for 2018/19 in August. I expect to see no more than standard lecturing hours on my timetable. In the meantime, if you're interested, you can follow my meandering teaching practice by listening to @topgold on all good social networks.
[Bernie Goldbach teaches creative media for business in the Limerick Institute of Technology. He snapped a 360 selfie in the top photo.]