Supporting Adjunct Faculty to Maximize Student Learning in the Online Classroom
Concurrent Session 8
The purpose of this Solution Design Summit team is to explore inter-institutional challenges, concerns, successes and initiatives to create an integrated, holistic faculty development model that more effectively supports adjunct faculty teaching online to maximize the learning of the students they teach. More effective support of adjunct faculty teaching online demands an awareness of the unique challenges inherent with this position: changing the culture of adjunct faculty, increasing engagement in the university community, promoting investment in professional development initiatives, scheduling, and access.
The fastest growing population of faculty in the academy are adjunct instructors and given the current economic conditions, and the impact of those conditions on institutions of higher learning, the proportion of adjunct faculty is likely to increase (NCES, 2011; Gappa, Austin & Trice, 2007). Yet the adjunct population continues to remain disconnected from the academy, as few institutions have yet to dedicate the proper time, resources, and communication channels necessary to support their work, while paradoxically becoming more and more reliant on this contingent labor force (Finder, 2007; Bombardieri, 2006; NCES, 2010).
The need to support faculty and provide professional development opportunities to assist faculty in becoming more effective teachers (with the ultimate goal of maximizing student learning) is not unique to online learning. But, in the current era of rapid growth in online course offerings, traditional professional development models are an inefficient (and ineffective) means of supporting adjunct faculty teaching online courses. The value and relevance of traditional faculty development initiatives, relying on face-to-face programming and faculty’s inherent engagement with professional development opportunities, are limited to traditional campus-based faculty. The resulting challenge lies in expanding the scope and focus of programming to meet the needs of a diverse faculty body including adjunct faculty teaching exclusively online. Key factors in this shift involve: changing the culture of adjunct faculty, increasing engagement in the university community, promoting investment in professional development initiatives, scheduling, and access.
As highlighted by Tipple (2010), adjunct faculty are not typically mainstreamed into the traditional faculty body and may be demotivated by perceptions that the institution do not treat them with the same respect, prestige and investment as is granted to fulltime faculty. Adjunct faculty often report feeling marginalized in the higher education setting due to lack of resources, administrative support, technical assistance and significant salary disparity (Gaillard-Kenney, 2006; Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Maguire, 2005; National Education Association, 2009; Rifkin, 1998); perceptions of marginalization may be intensified in the online environment in which adjunct faculty are working in geographic isolation.
Universities seeking to examine the impact of various faculty populations must examine access to professional development opportunities. Historically, faculty development and training initiatives have been geared primarily toward face-to-face, fulltime faculty. As such, any differences in student performance may be a function of the resources and professional development opportunities made available to the faculty teaching the course (Green, 2007; Sixl-Daniell, Williams, & Wong, 2006; Schnitzer & Crosby, 2003). In addition to the opportunities available, one must also consider the incentives of each faculty to participate in those professional development initiatives that are offered. While fulltime faculty may have incentives for participation in professional development built into their position, these same incentives may not be relevant for adjunct faculty. In addition, the timing and format of professional development activities may not be amenable to the schedules of a geographically-dispersed adjunct population. These concerns are echoed by Blodgett’s (2008) research that reported online faculty desired increased training in learning management systems, online pedagogy, university support resources and instructional design.
The purpose of this Solution Design Summit team is to explore inter-institutional challenges, concerns, successes and initiatives to create an integrated, holistic faculty development model that more effectively supports adjunct faculty teaching online to maximize the learning of the students they teach.