Rio Salado College has experienced significant growth over the past three years, which has resulted in the need to hire an increasing number of new online adjunct faculty. The Social Sciences Department has a seven-step ...
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Rio Salado College has experienced significant growth over the past three years, which has resulted in the need to hire an increasing number of new online adjunct faculty. The Social Sciences Department has a seven-step onboarding process that builds upon and complements the college’s current extensive online orientation program. The goal of the onboarding process is to “turbo-boost” online adjunct faculty success. It not only allows adjunct faculty to be trained and mentored in the Rio Salado College learning management system (RioLearn), but also helps adjunct faculty understand the culture and the belief system of the department.
Onboarding is more than just training new adjunct faculty. Onboarding provides tools needed for adjunct faculty to be successful up front and continually provides training opportunities throughout their first three semesters of teaching, which rapidly brings them into the Rio Salado culture.
Step one—Interview and hire
The department has found that using the right interview questions ensures that we hire the right adjunct faculty member from the start. We look for adjunct faculty who already have the same interest in student involvement and success as the department does. For example, it is important that instructors are able to communicate, provide feedback, and grade at an appropriate level for each course. The following are questions we use to help understand the interviewee’s philosophy and experience:
Share with us your perspective of the differences between teaching 100/200-level and upper division courses.
You have an “A” student, a “C” student, and a failing student. For each of these three students, how would you handle giving feedback on their content only?
Step two—Online orientation
The college as a whole has an online orientation program for adjunct faculty development.
Newly hired adjunct faculty have two weeks to complete the six lessons in the online training workshop. The training introduces the new hires to the college’s various programs, history, and culture. New instructors learn how to use RioLearn by experiencing the orientation in the system itself and by completing activities within the orientation, which are designed to demonstrate effective teaching and learning strategies. These activities are housed in a “sandbox” course, where the new instructors are free to make mistakes without negative effects on the student.
Step 3—Department-specific training
Once new adjunct faculty complete the online orientation, they team with a member from the department for department-specific training. When online training is mixed with controlled hands-on training, adjunct faculty do not feel as overwhelmed as they might otherwise feel. This blended approach accelerates the learning process in a safe environment in which they learn faster and feel more confident. The Social Sciences Department training is hands-on with lots of “do” activities and discussions. This training covers the following:
Grading and giving feedback
Step 4—IHD mentor adjunct faculty
The college’s orientation program provides a mentor for all new adjunct faculty throughout the first course they teach. The Instructional Help Desk (IHD) provides this mentoring. It is staffed with experienced Rio Salado College adjunct faculty who address new adjunct faculty members’ questions on various subjects, from policies and procedures to using the LMS. The mentoring program helps ensure:
Excellence in teaching
Overall faculty development, including an understanding of the college culture
The IHD mentoring process ends at the conclusion of the adjunct faculty member’s first course.
Step 5—Midpoint mini evaluation and department connection
At the midpoint of the adjuncts’ first course, a midpoint review (mini evaluation) is conducted by one of the Social Sciences team members. The review covers the following:
Once the mini evaluation is completed, the review is discussed with the adjunct faculty member in a “Department Connection.” The Department Connection covers the mini evaluation itself as well as reminders about teaching at an appropriate course level and a discussion of areas where the adjunct faculty member can grow. The department uses the mini evaluations for connecting with new adjunct faculty, for interventions, and for staffing. Instructors are rated and staffed according to the rating they earned and their hire date.
Step 6—Completion of peer evaluation
At the end of the adjunct faculty member’s first course, he or she receives a peer evaluation. A Social Sciences team member evaluates the adjunct’s first online course. The peer evaluations include self-reflections from the adjunct faculty member, review of the online course by a Social Sciences team member, and a student survey. The evaluation is written to cover these areas:
Preparation—Familiarity with course materials, policies and procedures, and technologies as well as college resources and services
Facilitation—Course management: record keeping, timely response, student retention, and problem solving
Communication—Interaction and feedback that is specific, detailed, fair, and consistent and that supports improvement
Content knowledge—Breadth and depth in teaching competencies
Step 7—Follow-up of semesters two and three
The Social Sciences Department’s onboarding process does not end at the conclusion of the adjunct faculty member’s first semester. Although we continue to support and provide resources for our adjunct faculty no matter what semester they are in, we consider them new hires for their first three semesters. During this time, adjunct faculty work with the Social Sciences team to complete additional adjunct faculty development workshops that increase their teaching and learning skills and understanding of college culture. New adjunct faculty continue to receive midpoint and peer evaluations and to connect with the department through individual and group meetings.
The Rio Salado College orientation program has provided an excellent foundation for the Social Sciences Department’s onboarding process for new adjunct faculty. The department continuously assesses the effectiveness of its onboarding process and makes changes and adjustments as indicated by the data. Anecdotal and survey data indicate that adjunct faculty feel they are prepared to teach online, which has had a positive impact on student success.
Tristan Marble is the instructional coordinator and Pat Case is the chair of the Social Sciences Department at Rio Salado College.