Local and Global Contexts of Digital Learning – Applying Lessons Learned from Research


As the face of higher education changes to meet the demands of learners, the workforce of educators is shifting to one that is largely comprised of part-time faculty members. These part-time faculty members bring a wealth of experience to the classrooms, but may not have any training or experience in education, and many lack the pedagogical/andragogical background to ensure the success of their learners. They also may lack a solid understanding of the technologies that are available to them. And often they lack opportunities for acculturation into the community college environment.

To ensure the success of learners, institutions of higher education need to make an investment in their educators, including those who work part-time and those who work remotely from a distance. These valuable contributors toward the goals of the learners and the institution must be given an opportunity to participate in and to contribute to the processes of their departments, and must be provided with opportunities for support and for growth. Through research and collaboration, a comprehensive plan of support and development will be created and implemented, with a focus on the support and development of part-time faculty.



Developing a Network of Support for Part-Time Faculty at the Community College Level: Applying Lessons Learned in Innovation Planning


The Changing Face of Education: Why Adjunct Faculty?

Colleges and universities are changing the way they provide instruction to learners. Learners are demanding more opportunities for online higher education courses and programs. As online learning opportunities increase, more students who previously could not consider higher education because of their life obligations (job and/or family, for example), or because they were too far from an institution of higher education (cost prohibitive because of distance and driving time, for example) are able to pursue an education. According to their 2016 report (Online report card: Tracking online education in the United States, 2016), Allen and Seaman reported that online education remains a growing trend in higher education, removing those barriers of time and distance that were once prohibitive to so many learners and helping to drive enrollment.

To increase profitability, fewer full-time faculty are hired, and more teaching roles are being handled by part-time, or adjunct faculty members. In fact, according to the Higher Education Data Center, less than 30% of all faculty at the higher education level are tenured or on track for tenure, around 20% are full-time but not on track for tenure, and approximately 50% are part-time, or adjunct faculty members. By some estimates, the number of part-time faculty teaching in higher education exceeds 70%. (Cipriano, 2017.)  In reality, part-time faculty cost considerably less to the institutions than their full-time faculty counterparts. In addition to lower wages/salaries, the institution typically does not provide any fringe benefits to the part-time employees. (Land & Salemi, 2014). Other incidental costs to the institution for full-time faculty include facilities, such as office space, utilities, Internet access, and other costs. For part-time faculty, office space and other incidental costs are typically not provided for each adjunct though some institutions have a workroom for part-time faculty to share. In situations where the adjunct is a remote employee, the cost to the institution is even less. (Yakoboski, 2016).

Part-time faculty bring a different facet to higher education. The trend in higher education to hire part-time faculty began as a measure to save funds and increase profits. But these individuals hold the same credentials as full-time, tenured, and tenure-track faculty. These credentials can include levels of education, but it also includes experience, especially for those faculty teaching career and technical workforce courses at the community college level. The experience that these faculty bring to the higher education table is current and relevant. In many situations, full-time and tenure/tenure-track faculty have been in higher education for many years where their adjunct counterparts have been in the workforce experiencing the current trends in the workforce. These experiences can be passed on to the learners, helping them to better prepare for their careers in those fields.

Student Learning Needs: Can Part-Time Faculty Meet the Expectations?

As more institutions are turning toward filling teaching roles with part-time faculty, the following considerations must be held: Can part-time faculty meet the expectations of the institution and the learners, especially with regard to student learning outcomes? For the learner, the employment status of the instructor should not make a difference. Most learners do not know if an instructor is full-time or part-time when they enroll in their courses. And the employment status of the instructor should not matter. But how can an institution hold part-time faculty to the same standards as their full-time counterparts? For those who are part of a public community college, these considerations are even more significant. According to their report, Allen and Seaman (2016) demonstrated that almost 73% of higher learning opportunities in the United States were provided in the public community college setting.

Institutions of higher learning have standards and expectations regarding student retention, student persistence, and student learning outcomes. In order to ensure that these standards and expectations are attainable, faculty members are required to attend meetings (institutional, departmental), participate in professional learning communities (PLCs), and to participate in professional development opportunities. However, these requirements are often held only for full-time faculty.

So how can part-time faculty be expected to attain the same goals as full-time faculty when institutions of higher education do not provide the same levels of support and the same levels of opportunities for growth?

Faculty Have Needs, Even if Part-Time

Within public institutions of higher education, student learning outcomes are become an increasingly important factor, especially for those institutions that receive funding through their state legislature. Additional criteria are established by general accrediting agencies, such as Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

To ensure that student learning outcomes and other established criteria can be met, faculty are held to certain standards, and required to participate in training, development, departmental and institutional meetings, and professional learning communities. For community colleges, institutions that often have workforce programs that are governed additionally by accrediting agencies, faculty may be held to additional standards to ensure that state level requirements are met, but also the requirements established by the accrediting body. The requirements imposed on full-time faculty allow them to collaborate and share in the development of program and course plans, and to collectively develop learning experiences and assessments that will help learners achieve learning outcomes and goals. Through the collaborative efforts of each team, the group of faculty has a collective investment in the plans, in the experiences and assessments, and in the learners themselves. In addition to the development and delivery of learning, at many institutions, full-time faculty are expected to participate in advisement and guidance of the students, and to participate in student activities to show support of their learners. These experiences increase the levels of commitment to the learners, and have been show to increase the success of the learners.  (Parrish, 2016).

To be effective, professional development opportunities should be sustained over time, and should offer the faculty learners opportunity to put learning into practice and to reflect on learning. Professional Learning Communities (PLC) go beyond typical professional development opportunities, by ensuring that the participants have a voice in the identification of development needs, and the planning for opportunities for growth. Within the PLC, the team members collaborate to create a cycle of continuous improvement, which includes the identification and development of learning opportunities for faculty. (Stewart, C., 2014)

But what about part-time faculty? How can they be held to the same standards when they are excluded from the training and development opportunities, from the opportunities to collaborate and share in the development of course and departmental collaboration, and are not considered part of the professional learning community?

Part-time faculty often come to higher education with a wealth of experience but very little teaching experience. Without investing in professional development for that population, they may not develop the skills they need to be successful as educators. To ensure that the part-time faculty and their learners have positive experiences in education, and to ensure that the part-time faculty are productive contributors toward the goals of the department and the institution, they must be included in departmental communication opportunities and PLCs, and they must have access to opportunities for continued growth and support. (Fuller, Brown, and Smith. 2017.) As more focus is placed on problem- or project-based learning, part-time faculty need to participate in learning experiences that will help them to develop skills in implementing and assessing project-based learning activities. (Barrell, 2007.)

To ensure that learning opportunities for part-time faculty are effective, consideration must be given to prior knowledge that these faculty may or may not have; learning opportunities must be relevant and applicable, and must be provided in shorter, more manageable modules, while still providing rigor, and opportunities for application. (Dirksen, 2012.)

Faculty Voice, Even if Part-Time

How can part-time faculty be included in departmental and institutional collaborative activities, PLCs, and in professional development? What is needed to make them want to participate? And what can institutions/departments do to ensure a sense of belonging and inclusion, so that part-time faculty feel like part of a team… a community?

Including part-time faculty in PLCs and departmental and institutional meetings can help them feel included, and can give them a voice in the development of student learning experiences and outcomes, in departmental planning, and in steering development of professional learning experiences for faculty. (Bruening, et al., 2013.) Other ways to include part-time faculty in the process of creating learning experiences includes surveys, where they can identify learning needs that they feel should be addressed. (Bedford, 2013.)

Faculty who are remote (teaching online, and not in proximity to the institution) can participate in PLCs and departmental/institutional activities through synchronous web conferencing tools. (Jenkins, 2016.) This technology can allow the part-time faculty to contribute to their team in PLCs, but also to share knowledge and experience, and even to provide professional development opportunities to their peers.

Faculty Needs… Training in Pedagogy / Andragogy and Educational Technology

Public institutions of higher education must adhere to guidelines established by the accrediting body that governs them. For public/state community colleges in the Southern United States, that accrediting body is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). According to SACSCOC, educators at the community college level who teach courses that are categorized as general education courses or courses that transfer to four year universities must have either a minimum of a Master’s Degree from an accredited institution in the discipline they are teaching, or any Master’s Degree from an accredited institution with at least 18 graduate hours in the teaching discipline. (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, 2018.) For example, an instructor might have a Master’s Degree in History, but also that instructor might have 18 additional graduate hours in Government. This level of educational attainment would allow that instructor to teach History courses or Government courses at the community college level. For courses that are categorized as non-transfer courses (those that are not eligible to transfer to a four year institution), a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in the discipline to be taught, or they may have an Associate’s Degree and experience that demonstrates competencies in the discipline. For example, a Welding instructor might have an Associate’s Degree, and experience in Welding; an instructor of Physical Therapy Assistant courses might hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Therapy. (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, 2018). Though these individuals have rich experience and knowledge, they are not required to have experience or educational background in teaching.

Providing opportunity to understand concepts such as backward design and lesson planning, learning theory, problem-based and project-based learning, and strategies for classroom management is critical to ensure that the instructor and the learners have positive and productive experiences. (Sawyer, 2014.)

Peer observation has been proven as an effective strategy to improve teaching practices at the higher education level (Atkinson & Bolt, 2012). Providing opportunites to observe other faculty can help the adjunct faculty to develop improved skills in teaching. For those who are strictly online educators, observations can include opportunities to see how other faculty structure online learning experiences and engage with learners can benefit these educators tremendously.

Additionally, educational technologies vary from institution to institution. Even when faculty enter an institution with a strong background in the technologies used in a previous college or a previous line of work, opportunity to learn the technology that is in use at the current institution is vital for the success of the instructor.

Ensuring Success of the Adjunct Faculty Network of Support

In order to successfully implement a network of support for adjunct faculty, consideration must be given to obstacles that can prevent the success of this program. As evidenced by the Los Angeles Unified Schools “Ipad Debacle” (Lapowski 2015), innovators must consider the nature of the problem to be solved, and the best way to address that would be. In this case, the problem is lack of professional learning opportunities and support for part-time faculty. Other considerations include the need for transparency to ensure that the motives for innovation remain true to the goals. Further, by ensuring that part-time faculty have a voice in the development of professional learning opportunities, the part-time faculty will be more likely to buy in and commit to the program. (Fuller and Smith, 2017.)

Conclusion: Putting it All Together

Instructional faculty need opportunities for professional development, when they first enter employment with a college, and in an ongoing capacity. Part-time faculty have the same needs as full-time faculty, but are often overlooked with regard to professional development because of time and distance. Because they are hired specifically to teach certain courses, they do not have time built into their schedules for professional development, as their full-time counterparts might have. Also, colleges and universities are hiring more faculty to work in a remote capacities, which means that distance might be prohibitive when considering the provision of professional development. But because expectations for student retention, persistence, and attainment of outcomes does not differ from full-time to part-time faculty, professional development for part-time faculty cannot continue to be overlooked.

These part-time faculty members also need the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with their peers. They need to have a voice in their departmental processes. They need to have a voice in the development of professional development opportunities. They need to have the opportunity to truly contribute to the community college experience.



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