How best to engage with fellow adjunct faculty

In my Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, we are engaging in the topic of visionary leadership in coaching.  Specifically, we want to engage with peers to contribute to the planning, development, communication, implementation, and evaluation of technology-infused strategic plans (ISTE Coaching Standard 1, Visionary Leadership).  I have run into this very topic at my institution when exploring strategies to initiate and sustain technology innovations and manage the change process in course curriculums with my fellow computer science adjunct faculty.

Teachers’ conference, Wikiseminar, March 2019 03
Taken by Davit Saroyan for Wikimedia Armenia [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I did not foresee the challenges with working with my fellow adjunct faculty.  In my first quarter of teaching, my first assignment was to take over a course from a full-time faculty member who was more than happy to collaborate with me on delivering and developing the course material.  This is somewhat understandable, as I was taking something off the plate of the full-time faculty so that he could focus on other course development.

However, I have since found that engaging with my fellow adjunct faculty on similar topics is not nearly as simple.  There are the physical constraints in engaging with adjunct faculty, as most do not have offices or phones on campus.  Adjunct faculty typically teach evening courses and are rarely on campus at the same time as administration and other faculty.  Adjunct faculty typically have other jobs during the working day and are paid far less than their full-time faculty counterparts.  These physical constraints makes in-person meetings with adjunct faculty near impossible.  Even so, I have engaged with many of my fellow adjunct computer science faculty at my institution via email and other asynchronous tools, but have still found a peculiar lack of interest or motivation when it comes to communication and collaboration.

Many of the computer science adjunct faculty, including myself, are drawn from industry with little to no formal training in teaching.  I had begun to rationalize the behavior of my fellow adjunct faculty similar to competing with a rival in industry, where asking for assistance or collaboration is seen as a sign of weakness.  Indeed, there may even be a competitive aspect between adjunct faculty, since if one instructor is seen to have better success teaching a certain topic, another faculty may not be given a chance to teach the same course in the future.

I wanted to research how my experiences compared with others.  It was tempting for me to fall into the trap of complacency, and accept the behavior of my fellow adjunct faculty as typical at all institutions.  However, I found several articles that recommend doing just the opposite, and strongly suggest that one figure out a way to engage with colleagues.

Don’t simply tolerate – participate, genuinely.  Test your ability to be compassionate, even when your coworker seems to be stuck in a repeating vine.

[…]

Empathy and understanding are game changers in any profession. (Donohue, n.d.)

With new resolve, I persevered and tried another approach to engage with my fellow adjunct faculty by building a learning community.  I was somewhat dismayed to discover that only two of the nine adjunct faculty were even interested in forming a learning community.  I soon realized that the only way to engage additional adjunct faculty is to offer something that simplifies or improves their teaching experience.

All relationships are based on a mutual give-and-take where people selflessly work together. If all you do is take, your colleagues will stop giving. (Gatens, 2015)

The one area that I found the most adjunct faculty interest is in reducing their workload.  Almost all faculty – adjunct or not – want to find ways to improve the student’s learning experience while also simplifying and streamlining the teaching process.  In several of my courses, new developments in a particular computing topic have evolved since the course curriculum was first developed.  This requires updating the curriculum and building new lesson plans.  I have come to the conclusion that the best way to collaborate with fellow adjunct faculty is to collaborate on these curriculum changes and lesson plans.

Successful collaborations happen when teachers work together to share the workload instead of doubling their efforts. (Jones, 2014)

Most of the work shared between faculty members at my institution is through Canvas.  That is, a teacher that wants to collaborate on course development with another teacher uses the Canvas course export and import functions.  This is a pretty primitive way to collaborate, as it requires the receiving teacher to go through an entire course to pick out quizzes, assignments, or other material that can be used outside of the course.  Sometimes, extracting this material can be very time consuming and complex.

I have found a tool in Canvas that provides the ability to share course material at a finer granularity than an entire course.  It is called ‘Canvas Commons‘ and allows teachers to create a learning object repository that can be shared with other instructors at the same institution or elsewhere.  My institution already had Canvas Commons deployed.  However, it is mostly used by several departments for a student connection module at the very start of a course.  There are no Canvas Common modules developed at my institution specific to the computer science department.  I intend to develop changes for my computer programming courses and submit specific modules (quizzes, assignments, presentations) to Canvas Commons so that my modules can be used by other full-time or adjunct faculty.

References

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Hi Nat,
    I have experience in supporting adjunct faculties who is not on the campus which is really hard and overwhelmed. I appreciate that you provide a great solution to this situation in which they can get motivated and collaborate with peers. They can share the specific module instead of the whole course which is flexible and easy to handle. Thanks for your sharing.

  2. Nat, It seems like you have a lot of work to do in order to change the culture of adjuncts. I like how you describe them as “competing with a rival in industry.” Does the institution require or encourage PLC’s. It sounds like your offer to make the work load less is a bridge to get some collaboration, much like the offer of pizza to get people to help you move. Your selected quotes compliment your experience beautifully.

  3. Nat,
    Your intentional use of a digital tool adjunct faculty is already using demonstrates that you are able to put yourself in the perspective of the person you are working with. I agree that in many professional fields asking for help is construed as weakness; I think we are missing the mark on this element of the professional world. If C level leaders are paying big dollars to get coaching why are those of us a little lower down the org chart afraid to better ourselves. I truly hope the tide shifts.

  4. Really appreciate your persistence in your efforts to make coaching work! I used to think that working with other professors was the most difficult challenge, but I was wrong.
    Your research has uncovered some valuable ideas for collaboration, and you hit on another. You seem to be focusing on a common pain point experienced by several of your peers. Perhaps your initial focused collaboration will open the door to broader collaboration on both content and pedagogy.

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