Online Training for Adjuncts

A new company is offering Webinars and consulting to colleges with part-time professors.
August 22, 2006

Job prospects for adjunct faculty have never looked better (for better or worse),and the market for online programming designed to help them in the classroom is expanding

A new company, AdjunctSuccess, offers colleges that employ adjuncts a range of Web-based resources, including remote conference sessions called Webinars that are viewed by all parties on the Internet. Designed to augment traditional training programs, these seminars are largely taught by Richard E. Lyons, author of "The Adjunct Professor's Guide to Success" and other instructional books. Lyons also founded Faculty Development Associates, a company that consults with colleges about teaching methods.

The sessions cover topics such as planning teaching strategies, today's college and university students, and integrating everyday technology into your curriculum. Colleges pay per participant. Lyons or another moderator can interact with enrolled adjuncts through instant messaging and microphones during the session.

Packages come with 15 Webinars, the first of which is customized to faculty at a specific university, and the rest of which are generic. Participants can either watch the sessions live or view them on their own time. Lyons said the content comes from training courses he has taught for the past 10 years.

Individual adjuncts can also sign up for Webinars. The company also offers institution-specific sessions for department chairs, deans and other administrators looking for advice on how best to utilize their adjuncts. Participants receive an e-newsletter, teaching checklists and access to a chat room called AS Café, where faculty members from around the country can use microphones plugged into their computer to discuss pedagogy -- and, most likely, complain about students.

“Adjuncts typically are teaching odd hours or on the weekend, when they don’t see a lot of other folks," Lyons said. "They often feel marginalized. The Webinar fosters a sense of community.”

Added Judy Garbinski, vice president for learning and assessment at Community College of Beaver County, which plans to use the service: “A lot of times our adjuncts think their their problems are specific to the institution. They need to see that they face what others face."

Lyons said he works with liaisons at each participating university to understand the classroom culture before starting the first session. He said administrators have become increasingly interested in online teaching applications as technology has improved.

Some, though, have bemoaned the rise of adjuncts and training programs as a sign that colleges aren't willing to invest in tenured and full-time faculty. Flo Hatcher, chair of the American Association of University Professors' Committee on Contingent Faculty and the Profession, said the programs are often costly, labor intensive and not worth a college's investment. "I'd rather the colleges put the money into salaries for part timers,"she said.

Hatcher said oftentimes, it is the full-time faculty who need the help because teaching has been valued less than academic research. "I don't see the need for these programs," she said. "Part timers think this is going to give them a leg up, but that's not always the case."

Added Lyons: "Colleges are going to hire adjuncts as they need them. I don’t think we are doing anything to encourage or discourage them to hire more. We want to make sure that newly hired adjuncts are more prepared."

AdjunctSuccess launched August 1 and is a collaboration between Lyons and colleagues Molly Baker and Helen M. Burnstad. Baker is the instructional technology coordinator; Burnstad works on development and also leads Webinars.

"More schools are concerned about the accountability issue," said Burnstad, a former university and community college instructor who has worked for years on developing material for adjuncts. "They are looking at a greater number of adjunct faculty and are aware that accrediting agencies are paying close attention."

The company has signed on to run Webinars for adjuncts at Hawaii Pacific University. Lyons said he hopes to have more than 10 other clients signed on by the start of the academic year.

Laura Renninger, interim dean of teaching and learning at Shepherd University, in West Virginia, said she is considering the AdjunctSuccess program. Her college has about 160 adjuncts, many of whom have little teaching experience.

Lyons spoke in person to adjuncts at Shepherd, and Renninger said participants had a spirited discussion about lecture styles. Lyons made the point that many students in the "Millennial" generation don't always respond well to the lecture format, Renninger said. Some longtime instructors responded that they would be unlikely to change their methods, she added.

Renninger said Shepherd offers teaching workshops that are open to all faculty, but because of scheduling conflicts, adjuncts rarely attend. “This would be a way they can access teaching tools on own time," she said.


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