Supporting Adjunct Faculty: 10 Tips for Higher Ed Programs

Concurrent Session 7

Brief Abstract

With the rise of adjunct hiring and the rate of turnover in this faculty pool, adequately preparing and supporting adjuncts for teaching online is essential. This session shares our program’s strategies for supporting adjuncts before and during online teaching, including professional development, collaboration, materials sharing, input valuing, and co-teaching, among others.

Presenters

Dr. Stephanie Dodman is an assistant professor of education in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University. She teaches online and face to face courses in curriculum and instruction. As an award-winning online instructor, she strives to create engaging online learning environments that allow her students the space to interact with one another and dive deeply into complex problems of practice. She has been teaching online since 2006 and regularly serves on her university's online course review team. As her college's online course offerings have increased dramatically, she has become increasingly interested in how online course delivery and its related support structures can be continually examined and improved to meet the evolving needs of all stakeholders.
Dr. Nancy Holincheck is an Associate Director of Mason’s Center for Social Equity through Science Education and an Assistant Professor of Education with the Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning (ASTL) program at George Mason University, in which she teaches science education, teacher research, and learning theory. A National Board Certified Teacher since 2001, Dr. Holincheck’s previous experience as a high school physics teacher and extensive experience as a teacher educator feed her research interests, which include problem solving, computational thinking, teacher education, teacher research, inquiry instruction, physics education, science education, and problem-based learning.

Extended Abstract

The purpose of this session is to share with the OLC community how our university program supports adjunct faculty for online teaching.

In a reflection of larger trends in higher education, our program has come to rely more heavily on adjunct faculty in recent years. Between 1995 and 2015, there was a 95 percent increase in the number of part-time faculty nationally (McFarland et al., 2018). In our program, over the course of a year, we increased 75% in our adjunct faculty. With increases in part-time faculty comes a variety of challenges to establishing and/or maintaining programmatic quality. For a variety of reasons, adjuncts are rarely involved in the “life” of a given program or college. This means their opportunities for participating in professional development and/or engaging with faculty regularly in course development or refinement are limited. In addition to this contributing to adjunct faculty’s feelings of dissatisfaction (Dolan, 2011), this pervasive disconnection between adjuncts and full-time program faculty can lead to loss of institutional knowledge and, if not, closely attended to, program courses can begin to lack cohesion (Fredrickson, 2015). These are especially true in an online environment where adjuncts can be physically isolated from on-campus faculty and students (Dolan, 2011).

Our graduate program has sought to proactively avoid the potential pitfalls of relying on adjunct faculty for online course instruction. Greater numbers of our students (who are working professionals) are opting for online course sections, even when a local face-to-face class section is an option. This also parallels national and international trends in the growth of online course offerings. We are determined to support our adjuncts to enhance their job satisfaction and effectiveness, as well as maintain our program’s content and instructional integrity. We view these as dual goals necessary for the success of all stakeholders.

Our session will detail our program’s effective efforts at supporting adjuncts. We will offer ten tips, created in consultation with our adjunct faculty, which can be utilized within any higher education program to support their online part-time faculty colleagues. We will also solicit audience members’ experiences with adjunct faculty at their institutions, their challenges, and their successes. We will expand our presented tips with participant/audience input. Interaction will occur from the beginning of the session with questions posed directly to the audience related to their experiences with supporting adjunct faculty and continue throughout the session as we ask audience members to reflect on how the tips would/could play out in their programs. We will also use input from the audience to expand and refine the tips for best supporting adjunct faculty for online teaching.

By the end of the session, participants will be able to:

  1. Reflect on their own program’s support of adjunct faculty,
  2. Plan for how the presented tips can be used in their program to support their adjunct faculty,
  3. Offer ways that the actions in the tips can be expanded or refined across program contexts.

Dolan, V. (2011). The isolation of online adjunct faculty and its impact on their performance. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(2).

Fredrickson, C. (2015, September 15). There is no excuse for how universities treat adjuncts. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/higher-education-college-adjunct-professor-salary/404461/

McFarland, J., Hussar, B., Wang, X., Zhang, J., Wang, K., Rathbun, A., Barmer, A., Forrest Cataldi, E., and Bullock Mann, F. (2018). The Condition of Education 2018 (NCES 2018-144). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2018144.