Faculty Focus


Professional Development for Adjunct Faculty Improves Teaching, Builds Community

The Department of Behavioral Sciences at St. Louis Community College-Meramec is a diverse department with 16 full-time and 53 adjunct faculty. In an effort to connect those adjuncts to the department, Darlaine Gardetto and some of her colleagues created an adjunct professional development program focused on improving teaching based on Bloom’s Taxonomy.

The department is home to seven disciplines—three career program and four general disciplines—which has been a challenge in terms of creating a sense of community. Before Gardetto became chair, there had not been any professional development for those part-time instructors, and community-building efforts were ineffective.

The need to improve professional development came from the college’s relatively low scores on academic rigor as measured by the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE). There was much debate as to why the college had low academic rigor scores and whether they accurately reflected reality. Nevertheless, Gardetto decided to seek ways to intellectually engage the faculty on issues related to it.

Because of the department’s reliance on adjunct instructors, Gardetto made it a point to invite them to teaching seminars held over the lunch hour, but they didn’t attend. So she and several colleagues decided to start offering weekend workshops for adjuncts, which drew about half of them. And it blossomed, to the point where the department now holds three or four sessions per year.

These workshops typically run approximately four hours and focus on Bloom’s Taxonomy, including the following topics:

  • Moving multiple-choice exams beyond memorization, using Bloom’s Taxonomy
  • Creating a philosophy of teaching statement
  • Teaching Generation WTF

These workshops are popular with the adjuncts because many are used to teaching at surrounding universities as well and have struggled to maintain academic rigor at the community college level without losing students or taking a hit on their students’ evaluations of their teaching.

“Teaching at the community college is somewhat different than teaching at our local private universities. They would try to use the same syllabus that they were using at the university and it wouldn’t work. Their initial thought was that the students weren’t up to doing the job and would end up watering down the curriculum so they wouldn’t have students fail. They were interested in discussing the ways they could integrate Bloom’s Taxonomy into their teaching to ramp up their rigor but at the same time not lose their students,” Gardetto says.

Gardetto and the other workshop coordinators come up with topics and provide short readings to generate interest and to prepare instructors to participate.

In each workshop, part of the time faculty meet as a department and part of the time they work in groups according to discipline, an approach used both for full- and part-time faculty development. “When I became chair, my experience with this department had been that our disciplinary boundaries were not recognized, and that was not a good thing for us. The idea had been that we’d see ourselves as more of a community if we were part of a big department. But I think, in fact, what happened was that we didn’t feel as connected because college professors are connected through their disciplines … I think they really are hungry for intellectual community and for recognition of themselves as professors within a discipline,” Gardetto says.

This sense of community is evident in the instructors’ investment in the workshops. In addition to taking time on Saturdays to participate, many instructors want to have more control over what happens in the workshops. For example, at a recent workshop, the facilitators gave a presentation and then the instructors wanted to have a discussion about the assignments in their courses. A next step will be a symposium where part-time instructors will do presentations for each other. To that end, the department has set up a Blackboard site to enable instructors to maintain the dialogue beyond the workshops.

The challenge now is to figure out how to direct the enthusiasm these part-time instructors are putting into their professional development. “They want more control over the content of those Saturday workshops, which is very interesting. That’s a sign that the community is working and that they’re coming together and want to empower their lives,” Gardetto says.

The key to the success of this adjunct development is the participation of the full-time faculty. “It really has to be faculty driven. Faculty need to step up to the plate to do this. And it’s such satisfying work. I can’t think of anything that’s more interesting, other than teaching, than interacting with colleagues and helping with their professional development. So much of the professional development—at least on our campus—is run by people who are in staff and administrative positions. Faculty need to be doing this, because they’re the ones who are trained in the disciplines,” Gardetto says.

Reprinted from Adjunct Professional Development Improves Teaching, Builds Community Academic Leader, 28.4 (2012): 8.