Special Edition: Developing and Evaluating Adjunct Faculty

Recently, Academic Impressions conducted an informal poll asking academics how their institutions develop and evaluate adjunct faculty.

When we asked academics about methods for supporting and developing contingent faculty, we learned:

  • 67% offer individual consultations.
  • 61% use a workshop series.
  • 51% use faculty learning opportunities/teaching circles.
  • 15% offer grants for professional development.

And when asked about evaluation methods, we learned:

  • 85% use faculty course questionnaires/student evaluations.
  • 68% offer class observation.
  • 28% integrate peer evaluation.
  • 14% use self-evaluation.

Yet experts in the field suggest that effectively measuring the teaching competencies of adjunct faculty requires going beyond the traditional norms for faculty evaluation. You need a balance of structured and informal assessment processes. If your evaluation strategy is to lead to improved teaching practices, it needs to entail more than student evaluations and class observations—though these can certainly offer value as part of a more comprehensive evaluation plan.

Developing Adjunct Faculty

A 2010 US Department of Education study found that adjunct instructors teach 60% of the college courses in the US. They represent a critical first line of instruction for many students, yet often receive minimal faculty development and minimal institutional support for serving students.

Yet Jennifer Strickland, the interim director for Mesa Community College’s Center for Teaching and Learning, suggests that faculty development for adjuncts should be a priority because it amounts to a concentrated investment in student success.

In November 2012, we interviewed Strickland on the support that is most critical for part-time faculty. She suggested these four items:

  • Comprehensive orientation for new instructors
  • “Just in time” support
  • Ongoing faculty development programs, with incentives for participation
  • Engagement with full-time faculty

Learn more in this article.

Evaluating Adjunct Faculty

Given the rising percentages of part-time instructors at many institutions, it is vital that deans and department chairs ensure that evaluation of adjunct faculty serves to fuel their continued improvement as instructors.

In this “101” for evaluating part-time faculty, Richard Lyons, editor of the book Best Practices for Supporting Adjunct Faculty (2007), stresses the importance of gathering timely and measurable feedback when evaluating adjunct faculty members.

Learn more in this article, which offers advice on:

  • Systematizing metrics for classroom observation. Define specific items that can be documented, measured, and improved, and that can inform a debriefing with the part-time faculty member.
  • Encouraging adjunct faculty to collect feedback in real-time. For example, Lyons recommends that adjuncts hand out index cards during the last 15 minutes of each class session and ask questions to gather early reactions from students.
  • Investing in one-on-one debriefing with each instructor. At a large department, this may be a not insignificant investment of time. Lyons suggests why it’s critical, and how to do it in a time-efficient way.

To review these techniques in more detail, read this 2010 primer on evaluating adjunct faculty.