Adjunct faculty play an important role in higher education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 46% of all post-secondary instructors are part-time, non-tenured faculty.* At nearly half of the total instructors, institutions increasingly must consider effective ways to support and develop their adjunct faculty. Investing in support for adjunct faculty means better learning and increased success for the millions of students they teach and influence each year.
Offering targeted and focused support for adjunct faculty is one of the priority recommendations in Time for Class: COVID-19 Edition, Part 1: A National Survey of Faculty During COVID-19. The courses adjuncts often teach are introductory level with high enrollments: “faculty teaching introductory-level courses are more likely to be adjunct and to teach more and higher-enrollment courses, all factors that complicate and create challenges for teaching online at scale.” The report goes on to note that “these faculty play an important role in teaching high-enrollment introductory courses that have a disproportionate impact on student progression and success, especially for students of color. They report higher rates of concern about equity and remediation and face unique challenges in adapting instruction for large classes and thus require focused time and attention from institutional leadership”.
For all students to succeed, all instructors need to use evidence-based teaching strategies in these introductory classes and adjuncts need to have access to resources that help create and foster an engaging and effective teaching and learning environment. Investing in better learning tools and support for adjunct faculty means more learning and increased success for the millions of students they teach and influence in introductory-level courses.
Stacey Souther, academic professional development Faculty liaison and Professor of Psychology at Cuyahoga Community College, explains, “Adjuncts may be teaching four general education courses, at four different institutions, using four different sets of materials. That becomes overwhelming from an instructional design standpoint.” That scenario is further complicated by the fact that adjuncts have less access to support at institutions. Adjunct faculty have “lower availability of instructional design staff at their institutions compared to their peers.” Support is especially essential today when colleges and universities are exploring ways that digital tools can improve teaching and learning.
Souther goes on, reporting, “Adjuncts are disconnected from colleges; they aren’t involved in committees, they typically have less decision-making power.” For adjuncts, high-quality courseware combined with targeted professional development can directly impact the consistency and quality of the learning experience, effective teaching, and strong student outcomes.
Courseware for High-Enrollment Classes
General education courses often serve as prerequisites to other courses and include large numbers of students with a range of learning needs. Robust courseware includes tools and support to help adjuncts teach effectively in these courses and better monitor and address their students’ needs.
First, effective courseware includes a variety of learning activities that align with a textbook or learning content. This includes testing tools, presentation materials for instruction, targeted assignments that can be used in any modality, multimedia content, practice opportunities, and more. Courseware can also have a personalized component that can quickly adapt activities to best serve students and meet them where they are. By bringing together content and learning activities into a unified experience, courseware can serve as a one-stop-shop for adjunct faculty who don’t have the time to find and piece together a variety of tools for their students. This doesn’t only impact adjuncts; access to a range of learning content and activities also impacts student engagement, outcomes, and overall success.
Second, effective courseware has built-in instructional design support that gives faculty the ability to map course content to overall learning outcomes. “Students need specific information, especially in general education classes that serve as a prerequisite to higher-level courses,” says Souther. “Strong backward design — starting with the outcomes and backward mapping to lesson plans — is easily done in courseware. This helps adjuncts who may not have formal teacher training and instead who may simply teach from the book, not always thinking about the desired outcomes.”
Courseware with instructional design features should help and not hinder adjuncts’ capabilities to customize courses. Alyson Indrunas, Executive Director of Teaching and Learning at Lumen Learning, adds, “Look for courseware that is flexible. If someone’s been teaching for a while, they don’t have to start all over. And if they are new to the classroom, there’s a course that is all set up. Instructors can move around lessons, delete assignments, and fully customize to meet an institution’s requirements without starting from scratch.”
A third important feature is how courseware provides adjuncts access to actionable data and feedback on student success. Access to actionable data makes life a little easier. “Courseware surfaces learning data to help students recognize when they need to work harder or ask for help,” said Souther. “And it doesn’t stop there; it helps adjuncts, especially those newer to teaching, identify and support struggling students. Imagine how many students one adjunct may be teaching at one time.” Courseware can flag the students who are struggling and even send customized, personalized emails to those students asking if they want extra practice. “Ultimately, courseware supports student success,” concluded Souther.
Professional Development Matters
We’ve identified features in courseware that can help adjuncts teaching high-enrollment general education courses. But adjuncts may have less access to support at institutions. Adjuncts may not have had the opportunity to implement digital materials in their courses; they may never have used adaptive technology or distilled actionable data to aid in student success.
“The adjunct market is tough; if there is one adjunct who is innovative and has some experience with online instruction, they will be more competitive than someone who has not,” said Indrunas. “Institutions are looking for ways to differentiate adjuncts from each other and want to hire those who will produce strong student outcomes.”
Given the lack of access to support and the competitive environment plus the impact adjuncts can have on producing strong student outcomes, it’s important that adjuncts have better access to professional development. One way to build adjuncts’ capacity for quality, consistent teaching and learning is to provide professional development focused on evidence-based teaching practices, like how to effectively use courseware. “Courseware professional development is also instructional design professional development,” added Souther. “You can use the features in courseware to teach about broader ideas, such as backward mapping and using data in teaching.”
Courseware that integrates into an institution’s learning management system (LMS) is critically important. LMS training is something most institutions make readily available from the start. Choosing courseware that integrates into the LMS and doesn’t exist outside of the system adjuncts have already invested time in learning means they can spend less time on the administrative aspects of teaching and more on learning and implementing best practices for using courseware to deliver stronger student outcomes.
Lastly, professional development also connects adjuncts with their peers, and peer relationships often increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning. “Community building is so key for adjuncts,” said Indrunas. “They need relationships with other faculty; they need professional learning communities.” Communities of practice can help adjuncts set goals, build skills, teach and reflect, share ideas, and track growth. Adjuncts and full-time faculty alike thrive when they use evidence-based strategies and safe, supportive communities to help one another grow.
Leveraging courseware for adjuncts, especially in high-enrollment general education courses, makes many aspects of teaching easier and more effective for part-time faculty. And, importantly, effective teaching and learning strategies supported by quality courseware drive improved student outcomes, especially in the significant early years of college.
*National Center for Education Statistics: Characteristics of Post-Secondary Faculty, Institute of Education Sciences.
** “Time for Class: COVID-19 Edition, Part 1 A National Survey of Faculty During COVID-19,” Digital Promise, Every Learner Everywhere, and Tyton Partners, 2020.