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2013 April 15 - 12:00 am

POV: Weaving Adjunct Faculty into the 21st Century Community College

Weaving Adjunct Faculty into the 21st Century Community College
Martha Ellis, Associate Vice Chancellor for Community College Partnerships
University of Texas System

While attending the League for Innovations 2013 conference in Dallas, I was chatting with a colleague about collaborative and active learning and the new language of flipped classrooms (i.e., technology-delivered content outside of class time to maximize student engagement with the material, faculty and other students during face-to-face sessions). We were reminiscing about conversations in our early faculty years of the late 1980s. At that time we were shifting from being teaching-centered to learning-centered with the refrain of faculty moving from a “sage on the stage” to a “guide on the side.” A decade later we were teaching online classes and in technology-enhanced “smart classrooms.”

What has changed in the 21st century? Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCS), competency-based courses, badges, learning analytics, personalized adaptive learning, open source course materials, institutional accountability, efficiency and unbundling of faculty roles. Students are consuming education in different ways by utilizing multiple institutions and multiple delivery modalities. The 21st Century Commission Report, “Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future,” encourages the leaders of community colleges to redesign the learning experience, reinvent institutional roles and reset community colleges for the century ahead. Mandates for increased student learning success and credential completion are permeating external and internal conversations. It is apparent that significant transformation is coming to community colleges whether we are ready or not.

What hasn’t changed in the last 25 years? Student success depends not only on high tech but also on the high touch. When students recount their college experiences, the reflection on what changed their lives is not the information or skills learned, but the faculty and staff with whom they connected.

The most significant advances in the pedagogic work in community colleges comes with a “joyful conspiracy” of faculty, staff, and administrators striving to close the gaps in student learning and success. Excitement about innovation in student learning is witnessed in conversations with faculty. However, 60 percent of faculty who teach community college students are missing in these conversations! Where are the voices of the part-time, adjunct faculty?

The future of the adjunct faculty member is at a crossroads. One direction leads to the continuing trend of increasing the number of students taught by adjunct faculty. In the other direction we may use a full-time faculty member to create personalized adaptive learning content to be used across all of the introductory courses in a discipline, or license a comparable course taught by a prestigious professor in that field. In this case, the adjunct faculty role may change or not be needed at all. As Bruce Leslie, chancellor of Alamo Community College District, recently wrote, “Traditional teaching will be replaced by faculty acting as coaches, facilitators, and information brokers.” While we are exploring the future road to traverse, adjunct faculty remain critical to the quality of student learning. To students, the adjunct faculty member is the college.

I am currently an adjunct faculty member. I have taught full-time and held positions of college dean, provost, and president. I understand the challenges and dilemmas from both perspectives. The mutual imperative is for community college leaders to include adjunct faculty members in the transformative work of redesigning learning experiences.

Adjunct faculty are specialists (faculty who are employed full-time outside of their teaching), freelancers (faculty who choose to be employed in multiple part-time jobs), career enders (people at the end of a productive career) and aspiring academics (wanting to move into full-time teaching or administrative positions). All categories of adjunct faculty report the same top three motivational factors for teaching: joy of teaching; personal satisfaction; and a flexible work schedule. Demotivating factors for adjunct faculty include: their perception that community colleges treat them as second-class citizens; ambiguity about job security each year; last-minute decisions on hiring; and lack of benefits. Isolation, marginalization, and lack of recognition are common feelings expressed by adjuncts.

But adjuncts do not necessarily want to be involved in additional requirements that are not related to teaching. A common refrain among adjuncts is, “I just want to teach my class.” They are generally student-centered, know the gaps in student learning, and want students to do better. They want to improve their skills and understand college goals.

Connecting with adjunct faculty to weave them into the fabric of the college is more than simply handing the adjunct a textbook, syllabus, and login information or including them in a meeting at the beginning of each semester. The bifurcated faculty workforce is not an option for increased student learning, persistence, completion, or a transformed community college.

Following are a few ideas from community colleges across the country:

  • Ask adjunct faculty for their ideas by engaging them on their terms when they are on campus. Presidents and vice presidents have hallway listening posts for informal listening time. Have interested adjunct faculty co-chair academic and curriculum committees and provide a seat at the governance table.

  • Promote high expectations with support. Studies validate that high expectations with wraparound services help students succeed. Colleges need high expectations with wrap- around services for adjunct faculty as well. Expectations for student success, quality of curriculum, focus on learning and outside-the-classroom requirements need to be clearly articulated to adjunct faculty. Ideas for wraparound services may include office/work space, unexpected acts of appreciation from administrators, a faculty mentor for each course in a department, faculty learning communities using technology, such as video chats and social learning networks.

  • Share promising practices with innovation exchanges. Look to adjuncts to share their classroom innovations. Provide institutional research staff to assist adjuncts in assessing the impact of these interventions with the possibility of successful interventions going to scale for the entire department or college. Allow part- time faculty to submit proposals for innovation grants on campus.

  • Provide professional development opportunities. The development activities need to include rich faculty engagement around student learning, student success, and understanding data. This professional development includes adjunct faculty who teach online as well as face-to-face courses. Consider reallocation of resources. If students are taught by part time faculty, financing several thousand dollars in professional development activities is a sound investment. If you cannot pay adjunct faculty to participate in these activities, then include them in meals, team-building activities, in-service, and on-site professional development days. They need to understand the culture of data and inquiry as well as student learning, success and completion.

  • Provide awards to outstanding adjuncts. Faculty and staff are extremely honored when they receive national awards, such as the John and Suanne Roueche Excellence Awards. Including part-time faculty as nominees, and paying for the award winners to attend conferences to receive their awards, provides recognition and professional development. Give campus awards to outstanding adjunct faculty at college events with a certificate presented by the president or vice president. Advancement opportunities and job security for adjuncts with outstanding evaluations and participation in professional development can be another type of award that addresses concerns of adjuncts.

Community college leaders can choose to shape the learning experience of the future, or be shaped by external forces. Leaders need to collaborate with adjunct faculty to identify their biggest challenges. They need to be proactive so that part-time faculty understand the culture of evidence and student success, and are integrated into the fabric of the college. We do not have the luxury of time as students, employers, and communities are depending on us for their future.

This article is the continuation of a series being authored by principals involved in National American University’s Roueche Graduate Center, and other national experts identified by the center. John E. Roueche and Margaretta B. Mathis serve as editors of the monthly column, a partnership between NAU’s Roueche Graduate Center and Community College Week. For additional information send emails to mbmathis@national.edu or call 512-813-2300.

It’s Your Turn: CCW wants to hear from you!
Q: How can colleges best make adjuncts part of improved student learning experiences?
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