Another dot in the blogosphere?

Invisible workload

Posted on: August 31, 2020

When I offered to redevelop two ICT-related modules for online facilitation and learning, I knew I had to boil the effort down to numbers. That is, how long would that take and how much would this cost.

I knew I had a few months to do this, so the runway was not the issue. The time it would take to revise and redesign the modules was. I also knew that administrators would not react positively to an accurate cost in terms of time, effort, and money, so I provided a low estimate.

How low? Forty development hours. This is equivalent to about 10 half-days of work if you imagine someone working in an office. Why is this low? I only considered the “visible” work, hence my reference to office work.

What does visible work look like? Imagine getting your home renovated. If you have a limited imagination, you only see what is obvious, e.g., people hacking walls or installing fixtures. The equivalent for online modules is the construction of resources.

I prepare primary, secondary, and tertiary resources.

My primary resource is a website that I create. It is typically a Google Site that houses all the rooms (pages), and furniture and fixings (the secondary and tertiary resources).

The secondary resources are items like videos, documents, PDFs, slides, spreadsheets, forms, and shared spaces for brainstorming, reflection, and other cooperative activities. I create these too.

Tertiary resources are items that others have created that I curate. These could be images, videos, slides, posters, or PDFs that I attribute and integrate with the primary resource.

I have already exceeded the 40 hours of creating these resources. I still have a few more to create and add, and I will need to revise them based on feedback and relevance over time.

What my estimate ignores is what administrators have trouble seeing and justifying as costs. This invisible workload includes, but is not limited to:

  • Researching: Reading, watching, and listening to current resources on the topic. These might include research articles, professional blogs, YouTube videos, and podcasts.
  • Writing: As I consume, I reflect on the relevance of these resources and I write down ideas for their use. I add to my Notes app the URLs, selections or screenshots from the resources, and possible activities they might enable.
  • Organising: All the ideas are a jumble that might not link or flow. They need to be coordinated for learning and instruction. They need to be corralled into reasonable chunks of time. They need to be aligned to outcomes, activities, and assessment.
  • Evaluating: Some resources are more useful or relevant than others. Some that are not useful now might be powerful later. As a result, their inclusion into modules needs to be prioritised based on a combination of professional judgement and deep reflection.
  • Iterating and revising: Everything I described above might be considered part of planning. Any plan is only as good as its implementation. As I only have one chance to implement each new module, I have to trial them by running them through in my head and with empathy for my learners. As I discover weakness or obstacles, I redesign and reconstruct. This is the iterative process.

If a course happens just once a year (and many do in higher education), I might discover a wonderful resource a day after my course ends. I consume it, take note of it, write down ideas for it, and revisit it weeks or months before the course resumes. This is what any educator or facilitator who is passionate about teaching does. But this, too, is workload that is not visible to an administrator.

If I was a full-time salaried employee, I would not have to deconstruct the work as all the tasks would be givens. But part-timers or adjuncts bring skills and practices that organisations lack. We need to show our value or else be taken for granted.

I share this not to shame administrators. I do so to provide insights they might not have. There is only shame if they choose to minimise or ignore such work.

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