According to the American Association of University Professors, contingent faculty now make up about 70% of the academic labor force (AAUP).
The generalized term that we use to describe adjunct faculty--contingent--pretty much sums up their experience: they live unpredictable lives and face many limitations. To help them succeed, it’s important to keep in mind the context in which adjuncts work: limited finances, limited stability of employment, limited benefits, limited respect, limited opportunities for professional development, limited access to other faculty, and (because many teach several sections in order to make ends meet) limited time to spend on prepping for classes and responding to students’ work.
Understanding the challenge of limitations in their teaching lives will help you find the most effective ways to support your adjuncts. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
Time Saver: Help Them Set Up Tech Platforms
According to Inside Higher Ed, learning management software (LMS) platforms like Canvas, Blackboard, and Moodle are now present at almost every college campus. In other words, using tech to teach is now a permanent part of our pedagogical lives. Some adjuncts welcome the opportunity to use educational technology, and others – not so much. You can make their lives easier if you give them a head start on tech platforms that they’re required to use, or that you would like them to use.
Consider creating a class on the platform that includes many of the necessary items for anyone teaching the class. Include things like:
- description of the course, prerequisites
- where to find campus resources
- policies about adding/dropping
- shared course objectives
- generic assignment instructions
- grade book, information on course grading, grade scales
- handouts for students
- essay prompts
You can then provide a digital copy of that class to each adjunct - that means they won’t have to start from scratch but instead will enter your campus LMS a step ahead.
If you use a content platform like McGraw-Hill's Connect or ALEKS, you can do the same thing: create a shell that includes several assignments that you or other faculty have created for the course and then copy that shell to all your adjuncts. Make some of the assignments required and make some of them optional--give your adjuncts the ability to make the class their own while still adhering to a few universal practices across all the sections.
Confidence Builder: Professional Development
Because they live with time constraints, adjuncts might not like coming to professional development meetings and workshops. But whether they know it or not, adjuncts really need opportunities for professional development and to feel part of the community in your department. Since they don’t usually serve on committees or attend/present at conferences, their experience of the campus is often limited to being there to teach and to attend required meetings.
So, when you host required meetings or professional development seminars, remember that having a chance to be part of the academic community is an important goal. Dedicate ample time during your meeting for the adjuncts to get to know each other and, if possible, members of the full-time faculty.
If you’re hosting a professional development meeting, make sure that you are setting an agenda that will make adjuncts feel that the meeting is worth their time. Consider asking some of your adjuncts to participate to share teaching tips, lesson plans, how they use XYZ technology, how they deal with problematic students, etc. Allow the focus of these workshops to be the trading of pedagogical advice between respected colleagues. If you can arrange an agenda that shares the time between full-time faculty and adjunct faculty, and all are focused on talking pedagogy, you will add value and a sense of comradery for everyone involved.
If you use a tech platform like McGraw-Hill's Connect or ALEKS, ask your sales representative if there’s a “digital faculty consultant” (DFC) who can visit one of your professional development meetings. These consultants are faculty at various campuses both locally and across the country who have been using digital products like Connect and ALEKS in their classes, and who are willing to come and share some pedagogical experiences with other faculty. After the consultant gives a presentation, encourage everyone to talk about their own experiences in small groups. You can also ask for a DFC to come and train your faculty on how to use any of the tools in Connect or ALEKS
Continued Support: Mentoring Programs
Professional development and get-together meetings are great, but they’re only moments in time. A mentoring program can provide a continual support network on a one-to-one basis - someone to talk to about ideas and problems, and yes, someone who will listen when you need to vent.
For example: Everett Community College created a mentoring program in which more experienced adjunct faculty-mentored newer faculty; they report that the program has not only increased engagement within their adjunct faculty, it also increased student success, because effective teach results in benefits to students.