Improving Student Success by Providing Adjuncts a One-Stop Shop for Professional Development

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Adjunct faculty are teaching ever-increasing numbers of first-year and community college classes, yet receive little faculty development. Studies have shown that rising reliance on adjuncts is having a negative effect on student success, particularly for first-generation and at-risk students.

With increased demands to improve graduation rates and other student success metrics, professional development to teach faculty about high-impact practices and other engaging teaching strategies is essential — especially for adjunct faculty who teach the majority of lower division classes.

However, time is a major issue, especially for part-time faculty.

The solution?

Online professional development that is available 24/7.

In this article we discuss how several institutions have used a one-stop approach to engage faculty members and keep critical resources at their fingertips.

Step 1: Develop a “One-Stop Shop” Centralized Approach

Using a one-stop approach is crucial to the success of offering professional development because busy adjuncts do not have time to search for modules in multiple locations. Compiling all of your professional development resources together makes it easy for adjuncts to see what resources are available and bookmark the page for easy online access to future training.

At the County College of Morris in Randolph, NJ, the online New Adjunct Faculty Orientation serves as a central reference point. Shelley Kurland, instructional designer at the Center for Teaching Excellence, explains that the Blackboard-based orientation is fully online and self-paced and covers everything from pedagogy and college policies to syllabi requirements, Blackboard basics, how to do online grading and more. It is available to all adjuncts regardless of the length of service, and adjuncts can access at any point in time.

Harper College in Palatine, IL, is taking a more innovative approach by offering a “one-stop shop” that links evaluation rubrics, completed evaluations and targeted based on issues identified in evaluations. The blended qualitative and quantitative model is a pilot with BloomBoard that will also provide data for the college about which faculty members take advantage of the professional development opportunities, note Michael Bates and Jack Henderson, associate and assistant deans of the Center for Faculty Engagement.

Don’t underestimate the importance of offering basic modules as well as more advanced topics to your adjunct population. According to Kirk Overstreet, Assistant Dean of Adjunct Faculty Support at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL, the majority of DuPage’s adjuncts have masters degrees or above, but most new adjuncts have never taken any kind of teaching or education class to train them how to write a lesson plan or how to work with the new learning management systems. Keeping all your training information in one place allows adjuncts to access just-in-time solutions to any issue.

Step 2: Inform – and Measure Awareness of Your Resources

Your institution may already have comprehensive online professional development, but do your adjuncts know about it? If so, do they know it’s a resource available to both part-time and full-time faculty? At Saginaw Valley State University, a needs assessment instrument is administered annually to adjuncts to assess this issue. Ann Coburn-Collins, director of Academic Programs Support, explains that she originally administered it to determine needs, but after those needs were addressed, she modified it to measure awareness of the resources that address those needs.

Step 3: Incentivize – and Track Faculty Use

Sometimes a little incentive is all an adjunct needs to fit training into an already-packed schedule. At Saginaw Valley, adjunct faculty time is valued, Coburn-Collins explains, so adjunct faculty are recognized in a variety of ways for participating in orientations, training and workshops. Adjuncts who attend the all-day fall orientation, including dinner and breakout sessions, receive $50. She plans to compensate adjuncts who complete the new online orientation at the same level.

Other incentives include:

  • Offering just-in-time development linked to results of student and department evaluations
  • Providing certificates of completion
  • Offering a small perk like a campus meal voucher to adjuncts who complete development opportunities

Remember to track the number of adjunct faculty who use development opportunities, which topics are most popular, and what incentive, if any, was offered for participation. If possible, also include evaluation data in your metrics to help indicate what impact development may have on teaching and to highlight pedagogical challenges that need to be addressed in future development opportunities.