Help for All Adjuncts

Online program allows colleges to help part-timers prepare for an array of classroom issues.
June 13, 2006

With last-minute lesson plans on the brain, adjuncts making their teaching debuts might overlook what to wear on the first day of class. Not to worry -- a new online training course has them covered.

AdjunctImpact, a classroom preparation program for adjuncts, weighs in on just about any topic, including faculty fashion. Program users come to a page where a range of outfits are displayed for them. There are traditional business suits, more casual combinations and even army fatigues.

If users click on the latter item first -- which program developers say often happens -- they will see a short description of how a sample student might interpret their choice, something along the lines of, “I paid a lot of money for the class and my professor is dressed like that.”

Seems intuitive, and the example is somewhat extreme, but Betsy Price, adjunct affairs liaison at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, where the product is being developed, said it’s surprising the number of adjuncts who don’t consider their attire to be at all important.

“Some adjuncts remember the classroom from the ‘60s. They remember seeing professors in jeans and shorts,” Price said. “These things which seem logical to us aren’t logical to them. Full-time faculty can show up in their bathing suits; adjuncts have to prove themselves that first day.”

Scott W. Taylor, chief executive of bcpLearning, a Michigan company that created AdjunctImpact and that sells other online training products for professionals, said in determining what issues to cover in training adjuncts, there’s a fine line between being comprehensive and overly pedantic. “We didn’t know if [the fashion page] would be a demeaning module or useful,” he said. “It’s been one of the most successful sections.”

Bob Gaudino, vice president of the Adjunct Faculty Association at Nassau Community College and an adjunct history professor, said any type of practical advice is warranted, because it is seldom provided anywhere else. “Not only would adjuncts benefit from a program like this, full-time instructors could learn from true instructions on how to teach,” he said.

Added Frances Hendrix, associative vice for academic affairs at Rose State College, in Oklahoma, one of the beta testing sites: “All that [about clothing and basic college policies] sounds kind of elementary in a way, but it’s nice to have that support so you don’t have to answer the same questions 500 times.”

AdjunctImpact goes beyond an adjunct’s physical appearance, taking a new instructor through everything from how to develop a syllabus to how to manage a classroom. Much of what is covered in the program comes from a four-year study on adjunct faculty led by Price while at Westminster College, in Utah. The content comes largely from faculty polling conducted by bcpLearning and Price over the past few years.

In her research, Price found that the majority of adjuncts hold another job. Many have families and few have much time to devote to teacher orientation. “Adjuncts often get hired because they are needed in emergencies,” said Price, an adjunct who teaches environmental science. “So when it’s 10 p.m., they are doing the prep work. This Web site is always there for them.”

Community colleges tend not to be able to afford professional development for their adjuncts, said George Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges. “We have an increasing number of adjunct faculty in community colleges, so anything we can do to help them succeed with the student, we’re in favor of,” he said.

Sarah McClure, an adjunct anthropology professor at the University of Oregon, said when she began teaching, she gladly accepted any teaching tips. McClure said what she would find most useful now is advice on how to incorporate technology into the curriculum.

Price said the online training program is not designed to take the place of a college’s new faculty orientation. It is supposed to be a supplemental tool. If a college has teaching tips, compliance policies and welcome messages from the president,  for instance, Taylor said his company can incorporate that into the Web page, which is customized for each college. Hendrix, of Rose State College, said she plans to include the college's mission statement and disability services policy.

In the early stages, AdjunctImpact tends to manage the user, Taylor said. The program sets a timetable for faculty members and allows them to apply for parking permits, fill out their W-2 forms and see what basic tools to bring to class on the first day. For adjuncts with no classroom experience, there's a module where they can see examples of opening comments to students and again hear commentary on how the students interpret the phrases. For instance, the line “this is my first time teaching,” can prompt a student response to the effect of, “my professor isn’t qualified.”

The program allows users to pace themselves, so that a veteran adjunct just wanting pedagogical advice can skip the opening lessons. Taylor said the intention isn’t to tell adjuncts what they should and shouldn’t say – or for that matter, how they should teach -- but to get users thinking more about their practices and how they affect the class.

AdjunctImpact also deals with compliance issues such sexual harassment and has sessions on how to deal with different types of students -- the motivated, the troubled and the introverted, for example.

A handful of colleges, including Pima Community College, in Arizona, and Prince George's Community College, in Maryland, are beta testing the product -- likely to cost about $10 per adjunct. (The idea is that colleges would purchase the product for their faculty.) Taylor said the company is looking to market the program to colleges that frequently hire aduncts. He hopes to have AdjunctImpact ready for the market by fall. The key, Taylor said, is convincing adjuncts that the online course will help them do their jobs better.

“The school doesn’t pay them for this type of education,” Taylor said. "Their career isn’t going to be advanced by going through this. There are no accolades or awards at the end; their motivation is self-improvement.”


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