Wasn't the information age supposed to make professional work more productive and less tedious, therefore less stressful? Sometimes it just doesn't seem that way.
This study was inspired by a national survey of postsecondary faculty produced by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.1 The UCLA study included a number of personal and attitudinal measures about the faculty life, but professors also provided information about some aspects of their use of technology, including how much stress they perceived it to be causing.
Among the most frequently cited causes of stress in faculty life, such as time pressures, teaching load, committee work, lack of a personal life and red tape, also appeared the phrase "keeping up with information technology." More than two-thirds of the sample reported experiencing some or a great deal of stress from keeping up with information technology. In fact, of the 17 "stressor" items in that study, only four emerged as more stressful than "keeping up with information technology."
Journalism and mass communication educators arguably encounter technology in their academic lives more frequently than those in many of the disciplines in the UCLA study. How are we coping with the benefits and demands of the ever-changing technology we need for our teaching and research? Specifically, the following research questions emerged:
1) What uses do journalism faculty make of technology in research and teaching? What are their attitudes toward new technology?
2) What levels of stress are journalism faculty experiencing? What types of stress? How prevalent is stress induced by technological change?
3) What are the differences between the way administrators perceive stress in faculty lives and faculty views of stress in their own lives?
4) Are there age or gender differences in the level of "technostress" journalism faculty experience? What other factors or conditions are associated with stress?
Faculty Stress and Faculty Adaptation to Technology
The concept of faculty stress is familiar to educational sociologists. Thorsen2 and Endres and Wearden3 use a time-honored definition of occupational stress: That which occurs when one perceives that the demands of the environment to clearly exceed one's resources to handle them.4 When a person senses that gap as challenging, it is not stressful. When the gap is thought to be threatening, it is stressful. Gmelch et al.5 would add that stress occurs with "the anticipation of negative consequences for an inadequate response"6 to a perceived demand. Smith et al. point out that many psychologists view stress per se as not necessarily harmful. Performance decreases when stress is low as well as when it is high. An "optimal" level of stress increases performance because of its inherent challenge.7
But too often stress creeps into unacceptably high levels, and this can lead to other problems in the academic life. Lease8 cites studies associating perceived stress with decrease in faculty productivity, increase in tension, decrease in job satisfaction and increase in propensity to leave academe. Austin and Pilat9 would add to that list of results depression, fatigue, poor health, "burnout," family problems and substance abuse.
Dillon and Tanner,10 on the other hand, found burnout, the result of prolonged, unabated stress, to exist in only a small portion of journalism and mass communication faculty. According to the HERI study,11 the faculty climate is hardly bleak. That study found that the percentage of postsecondary faculty reporting they were satisfied with their jobs rose from 69% in 1989 to 75% in 1999. The study also noted significant increases (and majorities) in proportions satisfied with the competency of their colleagues, their working conditions and their relations with the administration.
Yet some education scholars have found that levels of perceived faculty stress were higher in the 1990s than in previous decades. …