Be a Tech-Aware Adjunct

If you aren't on the tenure track, demonstrating your technology savvy can help you land and keep jobs, writes an adjunct.

November 18, 2009

Sometimes, for all of our "technical savvy," we might as well pass out mimeograph copies, all blue and wet from the printing machine down the hall. We might as well feed the Scantron sheets into the reader to grade our quizzes. And we might as well arrange our colored pens around the overhead projector as we try to remember which way it is that we are supposed to write in order for it to be read on the screen behind us. Sometimes, it would be easier if things weren’t so d&^@ complicated.

If you are contingent faculty, heed this warning — you need to be tech aware.

You need to not only demonstrate proficiency at utilizing the "new" technology; you need to be pushing the Beta-testing edge. Why? Because, as an adjunct, you are already two steps out the door with a long line of newly minted graduates waiting just outside. They, like your students, already know how to Twitter, how to Facebook, separately, both their Grandmother and their bar friends, and which App solves every arcane need they may have. They can text one-handed, locate the nearest taco joint from their phone and know to which site to upload a given incident as it happens. They are real-time, plugged-in and wired. If a dean or chair has to pick which low-paid, plug-n-play worker to put into an extra course next semester, make sure that it is you that stands out. This is all about differentiation.

Still not worried? You say, students and deans expect faculty to be a little odd, curmudgeonly and a Luddite if suits. It goes with the gig.

Yes, faculty can get away with a lot of odd traits, sticking their head in the tech sands included, but only if, and this is a big if, they are tenured or well on their way. Otherwise, you run the risk of being irrelevant.

Now, before you run out and get an iPhone and start Googling “del.ici.ous,” make a plan to start where your comfort zone ends and move outward. Do you already use social media (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) in your class? Probably not, as they are too distracting and unnecessary, if not a little bit scary. So, where does one start?

W. Gardner Campbell, director of the Academy of Teaching and Learning at Baylor University, argues, as he projects a stream of interaction, IM-like tweets on the screen behind him at the 2009 Educause meeting in Denver, that his live Twitter stream in the classroom acts as a glue bonding the instructor and learner in a different, and importantly, communication channel. His presentation builds on the work of instructors (tenure-track, it appears) like Monica Rankin, teaching at the University of Texas at Dallas, who presents her "Twitter Experiment" not only as a research project, but as a practicum on incorporating technology into learning. Her graduate student (a future adjunct/TT-desiring prof) Kim Smith posted her take on YouTube. Both Campbell and Rankin talk about how Twitter, set up like an inclusive, instant-messaging chat session, allows more voices into the instructional discussion. That is, it allows participation from the students. It also allows, as Campbell notes, insight into the minds of his students, providing feedback in real time. Distracting? Probably. Insightful? That is yet to be determined. Cutting edge? Perhaps. Interesting to admin … yes. Just because they may not know how to police/policy it, doesn’t mean that they are not engaged with it. This is a radar you need to blip.

Do you use a Learning Management System as a component of your class? You do if you log into Blackboard, Moodle or the like. Are you conversant with the emerging tech lingo (ERP, module, Business Intelligence, transactional data, etc.)? You need to be in order to participate in the emerging debates on the capture and use of system data such as log-in frequency, time-on-task ratios, material access points and the like. These sorts of data certainly may be instructive on what is being accessed, by whom and for how long. However, as shown by one online college I worked for, such information may also be used to track the goings on of a certain -- instructor -- subset of users. With one easily obtained report, the administration was able to, down to the second, determine an instructor’s footprint in the system. With their minimal log-in requirement in their per-course contract, knowing that they had access to such information was, for me, important to know. I may not be speeding, but I like to know when I am being radared by the police.

As you may know, I teach composition. One dean, like a ghost from college's past, upon reviewing his weekly report, contacted me to say that I, although not in violation of policy, was not "communicating" with my students enough in my online class. His report cataloged my time online, my comments in the chat/discussion rooms and any e-mails sent through the system. It did not, though, tally the hours spent responding to the students on their submissions. My approach to writing feedback was to respond directly on the student's submission (usually a Word document or a text file) with extensive notes throughout and a final grade with notes at the end. However, none of that effort -- though many students expressed a preference for this type of feedback -- was recorded through the LMS. If I downloaded all of the student submissions through the system-enabled zip-download option, my footprint was even smaller. I was being penalized for being efficient. Happy ending, though, came when I explained this approach and provided the dean with a sample paper. I have been, though, very aware of my "public" digital footprint since.

Does this mean that you will not be competitive in this market without latching on to the newest fad? Sure. A strong publication record will outpace tech savviness — at some colleges, for now. But as more publications move online, and blogging continues to blur what it means to publish, relying solely on monographs and articles, in the greater market, will not allow the instructor, much less the adjunct, the best position. Emerging technologies reconfigure the very nature of discourse. Consider how e-mail, instant messaging, Twittering, even those clickers that allow students to “vote” are a form of instant response, allowing much more of a dialog than was possible before.

Is all technology good pedagogy? Certainly not. But in the present, competitive and tough job market, if you are able to differentiate yourself from the pack by your exploration and instructive use of the most current communication tools, you mark yourself as engaged, relevant and employed.


Piss Poor Prof is the pseudonym of the blogger Burnt-Out Adjunct. His adjuncting numbers: 11 years, 9 institutions, almost 100 classes, 3 platforms, every conceivable course structure (lecture, online, hybrid, etc.), thousands of students.


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