Faculty Focus


Best Practices for Keeping Online Adjuncts Engaged

The number of adjunct faculty teaching at colleges and universities continues to rise dramatically. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 44 percent of faculty and instructional staff at all institutions in fall 2003 were part-time employees; compared with 33 percent in 1987, the first year of data collection.

Whether one views this as “an alarming trend or necessary change to an unstable tenure system, American colleges and universities will increasingly rely on adjunct faculty to teach courses, face-to-face and online,” says Dana Offerman, PhD., provost and chief academic officer at Excelsior College.

Last week Offerman led an online seminar titled Engagement Strategies for Online Adjuncts in which she shared policies and procedures used to foster a deeper connection between adjuncts and the institution where they teach. Similar to the widely accepted beliefs regarding student engagement, the best practices help create a framework for a successful and sustainable online teaching experience.

Some of the best practices Offerman shared for engaging online adjuncts include:

Mandatory orientation – Regardless of previous face-to-face or online teaching experience, Offerman recommends institutions require all new online adjuncts to participate in a structured orientation program facilitated by an experienced online instructor.

Expectations and standards – Be sure to establish and communicate clear expectations of what you require of your online adjuncts. For example, how often must the adjunct be “present” in his or her online class? (Be sure to define what you mean by “present.”) Also, let them know how you will be evaluating their practices and be prepared to provide faculty development activities to address any deficiencies.

Recognition – There are many small things you can do to recognize and reward outstanding adjuncts, including an awards program, mention in the department newsletter, and an invitation to a graduation ceremony or other campus event. If possible, offer your best adjuncts a multi-year contract or, instead of paying adjuncts a flat-rate, create a salary scale that rewards seniority and performance.

Professional development – As budgets tighten, professional development is often one of the first things on the chopping block, but Offerman says there are many low-budget ways to keep your adjuncts current on the latest teaching strategies —starting with leveraging the expertise of other faculty through a mentor program. She also recommends conducting an annual needs assessment to learn which skills adjuncts are most interested in developing.

Governance – As the number of adjuncts continues to increase, many are starting to wonder what their role can and should be in institutional decision-making. While acknowledging it’s a sensitive issue, Offerman recommends starting small by getting adjuncts involved on ad hoc committees or advisory councils.

National Center for Education Statistics, “2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:04),” http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2005/2005172.pdf (Accessed February 17, 2010).

Offerman, Dana. “Adjunct Faculty in Online Education: Expectations, Accountability and Quality Assurance.” Distance Education Report, vol. 14, no. 4, 5-7.