Fostering Excellence and Community with Adjunct Faculty and Online Students
Concurrent Session 5
The purpose of this session is to explore the use of multiple mechanisms to foster the core values of excellence and community for full and part time faculty, as well as for part time online graduate students.
Augustana University holds excellence and community as two of its core values. How can these two ideals be fostered within the context of a graduate program that is delivered completely online, and with a significant percentage of part-time faculty? It is important that these ideals are not only real and experienced for undergraduate students on campus, but also for our online graduate students around the country and the world. How can online students know the power of the mission to provide excellence in programming, as well as foster community? Lang et al. (2019) indicate that the mission, core values, and the distinctive qualities of a university can be articulated and experienced by online students as effectively as with students who take courses face to face.
Fostering Excellence and Community with Faculty
Beginning in the fall of 2016, several approaches were implemented to address these issues in an intentional and multi-faceted way. The goals were to engage full-time and part-time faculty together to foster both excellence and community for our online graduate programs in Education.
Master of Arts in Education (MAE) “Faculty Gatherings” have been held on a bi-monthly basis during the fall and spring semesters since Fall 2016. All full-time and part-time faculty teaching courses online are invited to join the meetings either face-to face, or via Zoom. These meetings have become a powerful and transformative mechanism for fostering a vision for excellence, and for community building.
The current reality in higher education is that there is a growing number of contingent faculty, many of whom are part-time faculty. The number of part-time faculty teaching online courses has also increased dramatically as colleges and universities have expanded online course offerings. Part-time faculty typically have minimal inclusion in academic decision-making, and receive fewer opportunities for professional development (Roney & Ulerick, 2013).
According to Dolan (2011), tending to the social needs of online faculty can develop a sense of commitment and institutional pride. The author goes on to say that this can then translate to a stronger sense of purpose and responsibility to students. It would appear that regular Faculty Gatherings have provided an enhanced sense of commitment and institutional pride for part-time faculty. Some PT faculty have applied for FT positions over the past 4 years. In fact, our 3 most recent FT faculty hires had formerly been PT online graduate faculty. We also have a handful of PT faculty who have provided anecdotal feedback about their ongoing sense of connection to Augustana because of the way they are included and valued.
Brooks (2011) goes on to say that there is growing evidence about the importance of creating community for faculty development in order that long term change might be realized. This is affirmed in the 2012 Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members completed by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce. PT faculty have played a critical role in course and program improvement through both Faculty Gatherings and in providing feedback to Lead Faculty, or in serving as Lead Faculty. This has served as a powerful catalyst/venue to cultivate synergy towards the focused efforts to increase foci on excellence and community in online programming.
Another mechanism adapted to enhance the focus on excellence and rigor, and to empower faculty was the creation of “lead faculty” for all core courses in the graduate program in Education. The idea of developing a lead faculty role was adapted from a practice at Concordia University-Portland (Dana Sims Barbarik, personal communication, October 3, 2016).
Lead faculty are responsible for updating the syllabus and online course template, as well as on-boarding new faculty who teach the course. Lead faculty also work with Instructional Designers to review and revise courses. They also seek input/feedback from other instructors teaching the course, and well as receive summarized course evaluation data about course design and delivery. Both full-time and part-time faculty serve in these positions, and faculty are compensated with an annual stipend for their work.
These collaborative efforts have provided fertile ground for processing ideas and generating productive conversations to help develop a shared vision and plan for fostering excellence in online courses and program, to improve the teaching practice of both full-time and part-time faculty, and to create community in a way that has provided powerfully positive energy/synergy for the collaborative work and improvements that have been accomplished to date.
Fostering Excellence and Community with Students
Cohort Model and Class size- Many programs, like the graduate programs in Education and Special Education at Augustana University, are delivered in a cohort model to enhance the experience of community among students. While cohorts initially had 12-15 students, the university moved to allow 18 students per cohort beginning in 2014. According to the US News and World Report (2014), students should seek out online schools where class sizes are in the 15 to 20 student range. An article printed in Inside Higher Ed (2017) acknowledged that courses sizes really vary among institutions providing online courses, and that many factors should be considered in making the decision.
Engaged Time- In January 2017, the Program Director had the opportunity to visit a handful of universities that offered online graduate programs in the Midwest region. One of the universities, Concordia St. Paul, utilized a model that they had created to estimate what they called “engaged time” to account for the rigor and workload within their online courses (Lonn Maly, personal communication, January 18, 2017). This model was adopted for program planning and development for the online Masters in Special Education Program. Powell, Helm, Layne and Ice (2012) conducted research on the American Public University System (APUS) Online Contact Hours Calculator as a way of also trying to provide a measure to reflect both quality and rigor in a way that is recognized in higher education.
Program-Specific Library Research Guides
Becksford and Metko (2018) state that it is critical to ensure that online students receive excellent library services and support. One librarian at Augustana has played an integral role in anticipating student needs with regard to library resources, and has developed an easy access Resource Guide that includes information on how to access articles, books and media as well as on a variety of other topics (APA citation tools, annotated bibliography resources, as well as information about services for students). This librarian has also served as a faculty member in the program, as well as on the committee that governs the graduate programs in Education. This close collaboration has been extremely beneficial for faculty and students alike.
Instructional Design- The program has been intentional to include administrators with faculty status who have training in Instructional Design to both assist with the course review process, guided by OSCQR principles, and to teach in the program. This has been critical to not only focus on best practices with regard to course design to foster student learning and engagement, but has also offered invaluable support in our progress towards better accessibility.
Research Synthesis Project- Developing a capstone project that required students to demonstrate their skills in professional writing has served as a catalyst for the focus on excellence throughout the entire curriculum in our online graduate programs in Education and Special Education as faculty backmapped the skills that students had to develop throughout the program in order to become more proficient with scholarly writing and APA.
Piloting Academic Writer- This tool was developed by the American Psychological Association approximately two years ago to assist students in developing skills in APA with regard to citations and writing. In Fall 2019, we are piloting the use of Academic Writer in all of the online graduate courses. Academic Writer has three main “centers”, which include learning, reference, and writing. The program faculty are eager to learn from students about the potential best uses for this tool in supporting the development of scholarly writing.
5 minutes of Reflection
Structuring the Q & A/Group Discussion
Use Poll Everywhere and/or Google form to capture audience responses to one or more of the questions below, and to make the results available to the audience if desired:
What are the most effective mechanisms that your institution has been intentional to implement as a means of fostering the development core values at your institution for adjunct faculty? For online students?
American Psychological Association (n.d) Academic Writer. Retrieved September 3, 2019 from
Becksford, L., & Metko, S. (2018, July-Dec) Using a library learning object repository to
empower teaching excellence for distance students. Journal of Library & Information
Sciences 12(3/4), 120-129.
Brooks, C.F. (2010, August) Towards ‘hybridized’ faculty development for the twenty-first century: blending online communities of practice and face to face meetings in instructional and professional support programmes. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 47(3), 261-270.
Coalition on the Academic Workforce. (2012, June) A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members: A Summary of Findings on Part-Time Faculty Respondents to the Coalition on the Academic Workforce Survey of Contingent Faculty Members and Instructors.
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), 62-77.
D’Orio, W. (2017, May 17) Online class sizes: One size does not fit all. Inside Higher Ed.
Haynie, D. (2014, Sept. 26) Experts say class size can matter for online students. US News &
Lang, C., Holzmann, G., Hullinger, H., Miller, M., & Norton, T. (2019, May/June) Online or
face-to-face: Do mission-related student learning outcomes differ? Christian Higher Education 18(3), 177-187.
Powell, K., Helm, J., Layne, M., Ice, P. (2012, Oct.) Quantifying online learning contact hours.
Administrative Issues Journal: Education, Practice & Research 2(2), 80-93.
Roney, K & Ulerick, S.L. (2013, Summer). A Roadmap to engaging part-time faculty in high- impact practices. Peer review. American Association of Colleges and Universities, 24-26.