Checklist: Preparing Adjunct Faculty to Teach Online

Image of a student holding a phone, at a laptop

Department chairs and program directors are busy people, and orienting adjunct faculty may not be top of mind. But adjuncts who are teaching online for the first time need support and information to hit the ground running. Here is a quick checklist of items to cover with first-time online instructors.

by Teresa Focarile, Boise State University
(who also wrote: “Adjunct Faculty: A Department Chair’s Guide to Orienting New Instructors“)

Many institutions are expanding their online course offerings, and using adjunct faculty to do so. While these faculty members are often teaching from a master course and therefore are not responsible for developing the class, there is still important information about teaching online that needs to be shared with these new instructors in order for them to be effective online teachers, and to ensure they understand the expectations for teaching in your program (Larcara, 2011).


Some items on this checklist might already be in place. For example, most institutions have a team that can get adjunct faculty up to speed on the functionality of the Learning Management System (LMS). In addition, many institutions have developed trainings (sometimes mandatory) for faculty who teach online. But if your institution does not have those kinds of supports in place, and/or if you want to give your adjunct faculty specific information about teaching for your program, here is a checklist of essential online teaching knowledge you should make sure to review with your first-time instructors.

Elements of effective online teachingQuestions every adjunct instructor needs answers toResources or information to share with your instructors
Teaching presenceHow do I make sure my students know that I am present, available and interested in their success?Faculty teaching online can show their presence in the course in many ways, including by participating in discussion boards, sending weekly announcements to the class, and emailing students who do good work or need additional support.
 Does this program have any specific requirements for how often I should interact with students?Review with your instructor any specific policies your program has for responding to student questions (e.g, within 24 hours? 48?), as well as how often instructors should be logging in to the online course to review and comment on student work.
Building communityHow can I help students connect with each other even though they are not meeting face to face?There are many ways to help online students connect with one another, including posting an introductory discussion board assignment for the first week, creating group assignments, using peer feedback, and holding synchronous video meetings.Discuss with your instructor specific ways that other classes have incorporated the strategies listed above (and check out some helpful tips from Faculty Focus and eLearning Industry here and here).
 How can I encourage students to be inclusive and open in class discussions?Work with your students to set guidelines for discussion and communication in your course (including asking students to honor the experiences of others and to work towards understanding, not agreement). For more resources on creating discussion guidelines, check out Paul C. Gorski’s “Guide for Setting Ground Rules.”
Time managementWhat do I need to allocate time
for that I wouldn’t need to in a face-to-face class?
The instructor will most likely need to check in with the class every day, to monitor student progress, answer questions, grade assignments, and show teacher presence. This might be different than their expectations, especially if they have only taught face-to-face and are used to dealing with student issues in person once or twice a week. Suggest that your faculty use the course schedule to think through the workload for the week, and like their students, build time into their schedules to respond to student work and participate in class discussions.
Giving feedbackHow does this department define “clear” feedback to student work?
How does the department define “timely” feedback to student
How does the department define “specific” feedback to student work?
The International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction provides standards for Online Instructor Competencies, which include providing students with “clear, timely, relevant and specific” feedback. Discuss with your instructors what those terms mean in your context and for your courses.
 Am I expected to give written feedback on all work submitted
by students?
Be sure to review any specific departmental guidelines about the format for feedback to students. (Should they use specific rubrics? Can they give verbal feedback or just written?)Your LMS will have a variety of tools to make giving feedback more efficient; let your instructors know about some of them or connect them with LMS support.
Personalizing the courseWhat elements of the course can
I change?
Provide the instructor with a course guide or similar resource that outlines which elements of the course are required and which elements they can add/revise to make the course align with their experience or knowledge base.
Additional resourcesWhom should I contact with pedagogical questions about the class?Share contact information for your Instructional Design consultants and/or Center for Teaching and Learning, to help instructors with pedagogical questions about the course. You might also have a faculty member assigned to oversee the course, who can then be a resource for adjunct instructors.
 Whom should I contact with questions about technological support?Make sure your instructors know how to contact your LMS team/technology support office.
 Whom should I contact about student issues/support?Be sure to share relevant institutional academic integrity policies, as well as contact information for the Dean of Students and Academic Advising offices.
 How can I stay connected to the department, even though I am
not teaching on site?
Make sure your online faculty are included in departmental emails, and, to the extent possible, in events on campus. Your online instructors need to feel like part of the community. You can also develop specific community-building opportunities for online faculty, such as online discussion forums where they can share ideas (Hill, 2018) or annual celebrations of effective teaching during which they can talk about their work (Dimeo, 2017).

Don’t Stop There

Using this checklist, you can help your online adjunct faculty prepare rapidly for teaching, but the work doesn’t stop there. Once faculty teach online for the first time, they will definitely have questions, needs, or ideas that they did not have before the experience (Wolf, 2006). Make a plan for how you will continue to support these faculty as they develop as online teachers, either by connecting them to existing resources at your institution (Center for Teaching and Learning, Professional Development office, etc.) or by meeting each semester to bring these faculty together to share ideas and ask questions.

Teresa Focarile, Boise State University


Cooper, Scott. “6 Tips To Build A Thriving Online Learning Community.” eLearning Industry, 2016.

Dimeo, Jean. “Teaching Teachers to Teach Online.” Inside Higher Ed, 2017.

Gorski, Paul. “Critical Multicultural Pavilion.” EdChange, 1995-2012.

Hill, C. “Best Practices for Training and Retaining Online Adjunct Faculty.” Faculty Focus, 2018.

Klein, J., Specter, J.M., Grabowski, B., de la Teja, I. Instructor Competencies: Standards for Face-to-Face, Online, and Blended Settings. Greenwich: Information Age Publishing, 2004.

Larcara, M. (2011). Supporting the online adjunct in higher education: A Delphi study. In C. Ho & M. Lin (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education (pp. 2387-2398). Honolulu, Hawaii,: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.

Wehler, M. (2018). “Five Ways to Build Community in Online Classrooms.” Faculty Focus, 2018. Retrieved from: /.

Wolf, P. “Best Practices in the Training of Faculty to Teach Online.” Journal of Computing in Higher Education. Spring 2006, Vol. 17(2), 47-78.


Image Credit: Photo by William Iven on Unsplash.

More Resources on Orienting and Supporting Adjunct Faculty

Adjunct Faculty: A Department Chair’s Guide to Orienting New Instructors | Article

How RIT is Building An Adjunct Community | Article

Managing and Supporting Adjunct Faculty | Recorded Webcast

Negotiating Successful Adjunct Union Collective Bargaining Agreements | Recorded Webcast

More Resources for Department Chairs

Communication and Conflict Management: A Handbook for the New Department Chair
Book | by J. Emmett Winn

Effective communication will make or break a department chair. Get a primer on the essential communication and conflict management skills that every department chair needs.