Higher Learning Commission

2014 Collection of Papers

Adjunct Faculty: Engagement and Community through
Professional Development

James O. Sawyer IV, Mary Lou Kata, and Deborah L. Armstrong

In its 2012 review of the state of postsecondary education, the National Center for Education Statistics found that 50 percent of faculty members are adjunct or part-time (National Center for Education Statistics 2012). A 2012 report published by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce found that 75.5 percent of postsecondary faculty are contingent or adjunct, though their statistics included graduate assistants and non-tenure-track faculty (Coalition on the Academic Workforce 2012). At Macomb Community College, located in southeast Michigan, 56 percent of course sections have been taught by adjunct faculty members over the last five years. These adjuncts teach in all disciplines and have a substantial impact on student success. Macomb’s adjunct faculty members are unionized, have a long-term contract in place (through 2018), and enjoy good relations with the institution’s administration and other bargaining units. As integral members of the teaching and learning community, Macomb’s adjuncts participate in college and social events, including the annual service award reception, annual summer all-staff picnic, and the college-wide Martin Luther King Day of Service activities.

The Coalition on the Academic Workforce report also observed that despite the overall high commitment many adjunct faculty members hold toward teaching, few institutions provide them with professional development support, “another indicator that institutions are not investing in maintaining and improving the quality of instruction” (Coalition on the Academic Workforce 2012, 14). The Coalition’s observations notwithstanding, Macomb Community College recognizes the important influence its adjunct faculty members have on student success and therefore continuously cultivates a sense of engagement and community by offering professional development opportunities that emphasize sound pedagogical practice and highlight institutional services, policies, and procedures. The college’s professional development offerings are designed using a flexible six-point model that interweaves engaging programmatic topics and presenters with community-building opportunities, elements that Linder identifies as essential to a strong professional development program (Linder 2012).

The Center for Teaching and Learning staff at Macomb Community College, together with college administrators, have identified several key challenges surrounding the design and implementation of professional development for adjunct faculty members. The ultimate goal of the college’s professional development programs is to ensure that students receive a high-quality education. This goal presents a challenge on two fronts: adjuncts need to be familiar with institutional practices and services that support student success, and they need experience with sound pedagogical practices. To meet the first challenge, Macomb provides adjuncts with resources and events that focus on institutional resources for student success. New adjuncts attend a mandatory orientation, in person or online, where they are introduced to student support services, such as Tutoring, Counseling and Advising, and Career Services. The orientation also introduces new adjuncts to support services focused on their success, such as the Center for Teaching and Learning. Like the majority of higher education faculty members, adjuncts bring a great deal of disciplinary knowledge to their students but often little experience in sound pedagogical practice. To support and improve teaching and learning, Macomb provides several professional development opportunities, which adjunct faculty are encouraged to attend. Technology-focused workshops integrate sound pedagogical practice with technology skills. The pedagogy-focused workshops provide hands-on experience with proven best-practice teaching techniques. These workshops are offered as stand-alone sessions and in series and are designed for, and attended by, both full-time and adjunct faculty members. In addition to the professional development offerings that are designed to support all faculty members, the Adjunct Institute is designed and scheduled specifically with adjuncts in mind. The Institute provides further exploration of the topics presented in the New Adjunct Orientation as well as many teaching-and-learning strategies. Finally, adjunct faculty members are included in end-of-semester student evaluations. Feedback from the evaluations is provided to adjuncts to support growth and improvement in the classroom.

Another key challenge surrounding professional development and support for adjunct faculty members is to communicate up-to-date college and curricular information. Adjuncts receive an Adjunct Faculty Handbook that includes overviews of student support services, institutional operations information, and relevant policies and procedures. The Adjunct Faculty Handbook, updated at the beginning of the academic year and available online and in hard copy, and the Adjunct Institute have proven to be effective communication vehicles. To communicate more broadly with all adjuncts, Macomb gives every adjunct faculty member a Macomb e-mail address. All important institutional information, such as class assignments and event announcements, are communicated via Macomb e-mail. The inclusion of adjunct faculty members in institutional announcements speaks to another key challenge: making adjunct faculty members feel that they are part of the teaching community at Macomb. To support an inclusive environment, adjuncts are invited to all professional development events. In addition to the Adjunct Institute, Macomb hosts an annual Adjunct Faculty Development Day, where institutional updates are given by the college’s president, provost, and other administrators, and teaching-and-learning breakout sessions, led by full-time faculty members, provide additional opportunities for adjuncts to acquire new teaching skills. Each year the college hosts an Adjunct Reception, where awards are given in recognition of years served. Many administrators and full-time faculty members attend this social event, making the evening a college-wide celebration of the contributions adjunct faculty members make to the institution.

Incorporating adjunct faculty’s content expertise into curriculum improvement as well as into the overall student experience can be challenging. Macomb’s full-time faculty members design the curriculum, but in areas where adjunct expertise is germane, adjunct faculty members have been called on to contribute to curriculum development, including repurposing courses for online delivery. Several adjunct faculty members are advisory committee members in the Career and Technical Education disciplines. Finally, adjuncts are encouraged to share their experience and expertise in professional development sessions where, together with full-time faculty, they contribute to improving the overall student experience.

Scheduling professional development opportunities that align with adjunct faculty members’ dynamic schedules can also be challenging. To be as inclusive as possible, Macomb’s professional development offerings are often scheduled in the evenings and on Saturdays. Some technology-focused sessions are offered online, and adjunct faculty members have open access to many teaching-and-learning focused webinars. Consultants in the Center for Teaching and Learning also make individual appointments with adjunct faculty members whose schedules preclude attending regularly scheduled professional development offerings.

To meet the challenges of ensuring that students receive a quality education, Macomb has developed a flexible six-point model that guides the design and implementation of faculty professional development at Macomb Community College (Figure 1).

Sawyer-Fig1

Figure 1.


  1. Offer professional development in series. This tactic encourages collaboration and community building between all faculty who attend the multi-event series. Professional development sessions offered in series include the Adjunct Institute and the popular Excellence in Teaching and Learning Series. The 2013–2014 Excellence Series focuses on Ken Bain’s influential book What the Best College Teachers Do (Bain 2004) and gives adjuncts the opportunity to collaborate with full-time faculty on developing and implementing instructional strategies in their classrooms.
  2. Enlist full-time faculty and staff members to facilitate professional development sessions. Macomb enjoys an abundance of exemplary full-time faculty and staff members whose expertise in pedagogy and institutional knowledge brings a welcomed dimension to professional development. An added benefit to enlisting full-time faculty and staff in professional development sessions is their increased exposure to the pedagogical practice of adjunct colleagues.
  3. Offer relevant topics that include institutional policies and procedures as well as pedagogical best practice. It is important that faculty members know how to engage students effectively in their learning as well as point them to appropriate student services such as tutoring and the library. Given the primary goal that students receive a high-quality education, professional development for adjuncts at Macomb focuses not only on pedagogical best practices but also on the services offered by the institution to support all aspects of the student experience.
  4. Provide stipends to adjuncts who complete workshop series. Providing modest stipends to adjuncts who invest time in their professional development sends a clear message that Macomb values their efforts. It has been interesting to observe that several adjunct faculty members continue to attend professional development series even after they have received their stipends.
  5. Provide coffee and tea at every session; provide light meals where appropriate. Learning is socially constructed—this is true for faculty members as well as for students. To create a comfortable social environment in the college’s professional development offerings where collegial relationships are built and risk-taking is welcomed, refreshments are included and table conversation around shared pedagogical issues is encouraged. Yee and Hargis (2012, 67) noted that “explicit efforts to offer faculty development programming benefit directly from an emphasis on socialization.”
  6. Employ a visible hands-on approach to community building. This approach pervades all professional development encounters with faculty members, whether during informal conversations or in formal workshop settings. In addition to including adjunct faculty members in institutional events such as the annual all-staff summer picnic, at least one member of the Center for Teaching and Learning’s staff is present at every professional development session in order to cultivate relationships with the faculty and support community building.

Professional development and support for adjunct faculty members at Macomb Community College has evolved over three years into a dynamic program that begins with the New Adjunct Orientation during the adjunct’s first semester and continues through workshop series, stand-alone workshops, community events, and individual consultations. The college’s professional development offerings have expanded to address the ten content areas Green identified as critical to adjunct faculty development: (1) the first day of the first week, (2) student contact and interaction, (3) cooperative learning, (4) student outcomes, assessment, and feedback, (5) relevance, (6) pace of instruction, (7) emotions and senses, (8) teacher enthusiasm, (9) teacher as model, and (10) evaluations (Green, 2007, 36-37). Using this model, the college continues to weave these content areas into its professional development offerings as it cultivates engagement and community for its adjunct faculty.

REFERENCES

Bain, K. 2004. What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Coalition on the Academic Workforce. 2012. A portrait of part-time faculty members. http://www.academicworkforce.org/CAW_portrait_2012.pdf‎.

Green, D. W. 2007. Adjunct faculty and the continuing quest for quality. New Directions for Community Colleges 2007 (140): 29–39.

Linder, K. E. 2012. Creating space for adjunct faculty: The multiple roles of centers for teaching and learning. Journal on Centers for Teaching & Learning 4: 33–59.

National Center for Education Statistics. 2012. Introduction. Digest of Education Statistics, 2012. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/.

Yee, K., and J. Hargis. 2012. Indirect faculty development and the role of sociability. Journal on Centers for Teaching & Learning 4: 61–78.

 

 

About the Authors

James O. Sawyer IV is Provost and Senior Vice President for the Learning Unit, Mary Lou Kata is Director of Academic Development, and Deborah L. Armstrong is Associate Director of Academic Development at Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan.

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NOTE: The papers included in this collection offer the viewpoints of their authors. HLC recommends them for study and for the advice they contain, but they do not represent official HLC directions, rules or policies.


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