When I began my career in higher education as an adjunct faculty member more than 18 years ago, there was very little adjunct faculty support, guidance, or evaluation, even though adjunct faculty were the main source of instruction, as is true at many institutions today. As time went by it was more of the same: no oversight, observation, development, or involvement by the main campus administration.
Approximately eight years later, I moved on to another institution to teach as an adjunct. Once again, there was very little involvement from main campus administration. However, before I could be assigned to my first course, I had to be observed by a “senior” adjunct faculty member. That did not go so well. I was asked to teach for 90 minutes in a human resources class. I did what a good adjunct would do: I showed up, and I did what I was told. About a day or two later, the program director called and said, “The senior adjunct faculty member said you don’t quite cut it.” This was shocking because I had about eight years of teaching experience. After a brief meeting with the program director, I was allowed to teach one class, which then turned into about 10 courses per year for the next four years. During that time I never had a visitor to any of my classes nor was I ever asked to turn in a course syllabus.
I began at my current institution as an adjunct as well. I then became director of one of the institution’s evening division locations, then director of the evening division, and currently dean of the program. As at my previous institutions, there was very little adjunct faculty support, oversight, development, guidance, observation, and evaluation. That all changed when I was named dean. I worked closely with the chief academic officer and the academic standards committee to develop the proper observation tools to ensure proper oversight and evaluation of adjuncts.
We now observe adjunct faculty and use the same guidelines and policies for adjuncts as we do with the full-time faculty. All new faculty members are observed during their first year or, in the case of adjuncts, during their first course. After that, it is an every-other-year experience. In the evening division, there are faculty meetings held every term.
The process for adjunct faculty is outlined in the college faculty handbook. There is a formal observation process for all modalities—face-to-face, blended/hybrid, and fully online. Each modality uses different rubrics and forms to reflect the different skills required in each teaching setting. It all starts with the hiring process. Make sure you are hiring the right person for the right modality. Each modality is different, and some people are not a good fit for each modality.
We notify adjuncts early in the hiring process that there will be a formal review process. When they are hired, we also provide the adjuncts with a copy of the observation rubric so that there is full transparency. There are also orientation sessions for newly hired adjuncts.
The review process involves more than observing and filling out forms. The reviewer meets with the instructor and provides feedback. If there is a need for additional training or coaching, we provide it. After the initial observation, the adjunct is observed formally every other year. The proper administration from the areas of continuing education and academic affairs formally documents and tracks the process to ensure that the process is adhered to.
For adjunct faculty who are returning or have been with the institution for many years, we communicate the need for the observation process at faculty meetings at all locations. The adjuncts welcome the observation process and welcome the feedback. Looking back at my career in higher education, I can surely say our process is the best I have seen, and it provides a greater experience for the students in the end.
Here is a link to the rubric that we used to develop our blended/hybrid and online course observation forms: www.blackboard.com/getdoc/7deaf501-4674-41b9-b2f2-554441ba099b/2012-Blackboard-Exemplary-Course-Rubric.aspx
Neil Trotta is the dean of the dean of accelerated and professional studies at Fisher College.