How one institution supports adjunct faculty
College of DuPage, located just west of Chicago, is one of the largest community colleges in the United States, and it is the largest community college in the Midwest. The institution serves more than 30,000 students and offers a variety of courses, with more than 80 percent of its classes delivered face-to-face.
COD also employs a large adjunct faculty force—in any given semester, there are more than 1,200 adjunct instructors teaching. The college is in constant search of ways to increase the overall quality of education delivered to the community. In prior years, management of the adjunct instructors was left largely to the academic divisions and subdivisions across the college. Because of this, the college faced many of the issues described in the March UB article, “Unintended consequences: The rise—and fall—of adjuncts in higher education,” by Tim Goral.
In response, COD developed the Office of Adjunct Faculty Support and created two assistant dean positions to lead the initiative. The Office of Adjunct Faculty Support provides administrative services to all part-time/adjunct faculty at the college.
The assistant deans provide manage recruitment, orientation, evaluation and development. They, as a component of academic affairs, work with the college’s divisions, the Teaching and Learning Center and other units to provide support for the adjunct population. In addition, the assistant deans also manage centers where adjuncts can have space to grade, meet with students, get mail and access services while on campus.
The goal of the Office of Adjunct Faculty Support is to assist in the pedagogical development of adjuncts who, in many instances, have little or no training as teachers. In the end, the students benefit and that is what is important. The college has instituted several important initiatives to develop more than 1,200 adjuncts.
Initial screening. First, the assistant deans recruit and perform an initial screening of potential adjunct instructors. Using new recruitment software, the assistant deans create pools of qualified candidates. Adjuncts are then interviewed to ascertain their teaching abilities. The initial screening is essential in finding instructors who have the skills needed to teach. It also aids in identifying potential adjuncts who, with some development, can also become effective teachers.
Improving the onboarding process. In the past, the process was very simple: An adjunct was hired, handed a book and class roster, and then sent off to the classroom. The enhanced process now includes a two-step orientation program.
First, the adjuncts are shown an online presentation that introduces them to the college and its basic policies and procedures. Second, basic teaching skills and the use of technology in an educational setting are covered in face-to-face sessions that are offered several times a year. Once both phases are completed, the adjunct is better prepared to teach—but further training is required.
Feedback and the opportunity for professional development. COD employs several methods of evaluation that complement teaching principles. All new adjunct instructors are observed in their first semester and then at least once every three years. The assistant deans use an observation rubric that allows them to focus on key components of effective teaching. This rubric is used in conjunction with student evaluations and helps identify areas of strength and growth.
As a final step to the observation process, the assistant deans meet with adjuncts individually to discuss ways to improve.
These initiatives are some of the ways that COD supports adjunct instructors. As our business needs change and the college moves toward the use of additional adjuncts in the classroom, these efforts will ensure consistency and quality teaching. The goal is to create a positive and rewarding teaching environment for the adjuncts.
Kirk Overstreet is assistant dean for adjunct faculty support at the College of DuPage.
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