Lean On Me: Development of an Associate Faculty Support Model

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

The key to the success of an online university is the retention of high quality, engaged, and supported faculty. This study provides a window into the literature and development of a more systemic and comprehensive model of communication, support, and refinement of the instructor quality review process and responsive mentoring.  


Dr. Kelly Stewart is the Program Chair of the Master of Arts in Education (MAED) and Assistant Professor in the College of Education at Ashford University. She earned a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership and Innovation with a specialization in Curriculum and Policy from Arizona State University, a Master of Education with a specialization in Educational Technology from Arizona State University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education with an endorsement in K-12 Reading from Indiana University. Dr. Stewart started her twenty year education career as an EL teacher and middle school teacher, as well as K-12 reading interventionist. She also taught TV Studio and launched the schools’ drama program, along with coaching cheerleading. During this time, Dr. Stewart got engaged with brain research and its application to the classroom. She was asked to conduct professional development for teachers and was thrilled to find joy and purpose in working with teachers, as well as students. For the past ten years, Kelly has worked as a staff developer, coach, adjunct professor, consultant, and district administrator. Her passion and focus has been on working with beginning teachers, developing sustainable systems for support, and mentoring programs. Her area of research has been around recruitment and retention as teacher shortage concerns and retaining the best teachers for students continues to be a challenge around the country and even across the world, specifically in Britain and Australia. Her most recent area of research is around supporting online associate faculty.

Extended Abstract

This study focused on gathering input and insights into the experiences of an online associate faculty member to help develop a support model for Ashford University’s College of Education Associate Faculty who teach a large portion of the education courses.  The goal from surveying this group was to gather insights on their perceptions of the Ashford community, the Instructor Quality Review (IQR) experience, course support, and mentoring efforts. This group is key to student success and retention. We recognize that the challenge lies within the online adjunct (associate) role where faculty can feel isolated, disconnected, and even burnt out.  Developing a College of Education Associate Faculty Support Model is critical component for staff and student retention.


The literature clearly denotes the benefits of utilizing faculty adjunct highlighting their instructional expertise, helping manage the workload, and help keep program costs manageable (Henkel, 2012; Page, 2016).  The focus on retaining high quality faculty to ensure greater student retention is also found throughout the literature (Ferencz, 2016; Rogers, McIntyre, & Jazzar, 2016; Thompson, 2017). “Clearly, the time has come for online universities to provide mentoring that assures the success of their greatest teaching force, its adjunct faculty” (Rogers, McIntyre, & Jazzar, 2009, p.1). Knowing that a lack of training can have a negative impact on student retention and adjunct attrition as these instructors feel unprepared or unsuccessful teaching online, universities are searching for ways to better support and retain their faculty adjunct.


Many studies focus on higher educational faculty adjunct retention through support (Hill et al.,2008; Jazzar & Ferencz, 2009).  These topics in the literature are often segmented into coaching and mentoring this group, the instructional review process, and/or developing an inclusive and robust onboarding process.  Adjuncts are busy and often have demanding full-time jobs which makes traditional continuing educational and support opportunities challenging.


In searching through the literature on ways to best support online adjunct faculty, several best practices emerged that were replicated in multiple studies.  

These included:

  • Virtual faculty lounge-includes safe place for questions, resources,

and showcased best practices in online courses, discussion boards, templates, etc.

  •  Phone call/video support

  • Relevant orientation/onboarding

“The need for mentoring programs that include on-going professional development as very important to the success of an adjunct instructor” (Rogers, McIntyre, & Jazzar, 2009, p.2).

  • Individualized learning plans for each faculty member (focused on classroom organization & processes, content presentations, fostering learning, learning environment.

“Providing instructors with the support they need likely will help retention, but the need for support does not end even after they have taught online for a long-time notes Ruth Hickey, director of the Open Learning Centre” (Hill, 2008, p.5).

  • Trained mentor program-year option for support

“The four cornerstones of effective mentoring programs are professional development, effective communication, building balance, and forming relationships (Rogers, McIntyre, & Jazzar, 2009, p.1)

  • Strong technical & curriculum support

  • Inclusion of purposeful ways to ensure that the FA feels a part of their university community, including informal/formal social and professional opportunities & ongoing training responsive to their needs

“As higher education institutions reach out to adjuncts, they will need to listen carefully and respond affirmatively to what their instructors are saying “(Rogers, McIntyre, & Jazzar, 2009, p.1).


Repeatedly, the literature supported the idea to gather information and listen to what adjunct faculty are saying and create responsive, flexible support structures to address these (Wolf, 2011).  Noting, “Faculty is the first connection to students. If they are not actively involved, we will lose students” shares John Orlando (Hill (Ed.), p.19). The success of the adjunct faculty depends on how supported they are and can cultivate a sense of community in the online world (Ferencz, 2016).  Each year, associate faculty are deactivated due to substandard work performance. Some of those faculty associate may have been able to be additionally coached, mentored, and supported to better support Ashford students.


However, there is less research focused on giving a voice to online adjunct

faculty’s experiences and how their perceived sense of community in the online work environment impacts their teaching.  This sense of “community” is especially important when faculty interact with leadership, colleagues, and students in the virtual world. Therefore, utilizing community theory (McMillan and Chavis, 1986) which focuses on membership, influence, reinforcement of needs, and shared emotional connection, in connection with motivation hygiene theory (Hezberg, 1968)-guiding principles for why people are motivated to work makes sense for this study.


Project Objectives

1.     Development of a systemic and responsive support plan for COE associate faculty.

2.     Development of insights and reflections on how the role full time faculty members can play into fully supporting associate faculty.

3.     Enhance conversations and subsequent planning around creating a more inclusive faculty community that fully aligns with Ashford’s mission, values, and goals.




The study’s findings revealed that it is important to ensure that Associate Faculty feel supported and connected to the university. This can be managed through purposeful and relevant communication, as well as personalized connections with full-time faculty. Additionally, more information from lead faculty, leadership, and the organization can help to remedy feelings of disconnection.  Associate Faculty want to know who they go to for curricular support, as well as overall encouragement and resources. Associate Faculty want clarity on their performance review process. They would like a focus on highlighting their strengths as well as providing relevant feedback to improve their teaching and student success. Additionally, the mentoring process has been refined to better customize and be responsive to the needs of each Associate Faculty member.  A model, in the form of an infographic, has been created to capture the qualitative findings of this study into a useable takeaway for other colleges to utilize when considering support and mentoring for their online faculty.