Leading & Listening: The community speaks

In the fall of 2020 Dr. Wendy Craig (Psychology) began to probe the impact of Covid-19 on the Faculty of Arts and Science community. Through a series of ThoughtExchanges she gathered insights into the ways in which the pandemic was changing people’s lives and challenging the norms of just one year ago.

The result of that research was the Continuous Improvement Review for COVID Response which the Faculty of Arts and Science and Queen’s University will use as a template to address the challenges of the pandemic. A first of its kind at Queen’s, the research can also benefit other faculties or other post-secondary institutions.

During a series of seven ThoughtExchanges, Dr. Craig focused on the main question of “How could Queen’s University provide better support during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

Eight main themes emerged from the responses of staff, faculty, and students:

  • Mental health
  • Communication
  • Too high expectations
  • Recognition and value of work
  • Equity
  • Connectedness and community
  • Operational considerations
  • Access to university for work, research, and recreation

“One of the biggest surprises was the consistency of issues across all the stakeholders – students, faculty, and staff,” says Dr. Craig. “Although there were some nuances in the themes, that everyone experiencing similar issues with respect to stress and mental health, workload and timeline concerns, a need for clear communication; missing our connections with each other; and wanting access to university for work, research, learning, and recreation.  These common experiences give the sense of we are not alone and we are all in this together.”

To gather the data, Dr. Craig engaged with specific audiences within the Faculty of Arts and Science including: staff, faculty and students. Within those segments the findings were broken down further into managers, department heads, undergraduate chairs, graduate coordinators, undergraduate students and graduate students.

“My main take away is everyone needs their voices heard, but perhaps what is most critical now is how we respond to the concerns raised,” says Dr. Craig. “There are things we can do that will address some concerns and in the short term and in the long term.  These actions will make a difference.”

“For example, many teaching resources have been developed to support instructors and these are available online and can be accessed. We need to ensure that instructors know about the resources and can access them,” says Dr. Craig. “Second, we have learned that remote working can be achieved so in the long run, we need to think about how we can create a workplace that has flexibility and meets people’s needs. The third key lesson is a recognition that we can be more efficient in how we do the work as many individuals, departments, and faculties have been working in silos. Through structural change and support we can create connections and break down silos so that we are not reproducing work, but rather sharing best practices and resources in a more collaborative manner.”

Also included in the research methodology was a survey of instructional practises with a representative sample of faculty at Queen’s, mental health surveys for staff and faculty, and a review of newly created teaching resources.

“Supporting our people and enriching the academic or learning experience is our primary concern and we want to be sure we are listening to the FAS community so we can better navigate the challenges of the pandemic together,” says Dean Barbara Crow, Faculty of Arts and Science. “COVID and the transition to remote learning and working has created an opportunity to understand what we do well and allowed us to challenge some of our organizational norms. There continue to be many uncertainties, but as we learn more about COVID working together is critical to our return to campus.”

Assisting Dr. Craig with her research were: Wanda Beyer, M.Ed. (Associate Director, Instructional Design and Curriculum), Jordan Herbison, M.Sc. (PhD student in Kinesiology), Samuel Kim, M.Sc. (PhD student in Psychology), Kyla Mayne, M.Sc. (PhD student in Psychology), Michael Niven (MA student in the Faculty Education), and Reem Atallah (undergraduate student in Psychology).

We are grateful to Dr. Craig and her research team for all the work she has done.

To see more of Dr. Craig's research, please visit QUartsci.com/leading-and-listening