Empowering Adjuncts: 5 Practical Ways to Support Them Using Courseware

Written by: Pamela Baker

Because many institutions depend heavily on both adjuncts and courseware for gateway courses, student success requires supporting professional development for adjuncts.

Adjunct faculty bring real-world experience to college classrooms, providing students with insights into professional fields and enriching the learning experience. Adjuncts also contribute to the diversity of the faculty, bringing unique perspectives and experiences. They often teach specialized courses that require industry expertise. 

However, adjuncts are often thrust into less-than-ideal conditions for teaching and learning. For example, they are on contingent contracts, usually with only part-time teaching assignments, and are often not provided with the same resources as their full-time and tenure-track peers. They often lack access to professional development opportunities and support networks within the institution. 

Anna Zendell, Program Director in the Masters in Healthcare Management Program at Bay Path University, and a new member of the CourseGateway Product Advisory Board, says adjunct faculty are “at the heart of the student’s education,” but that many institutions don’t have good practices in place to support them.

For example, adjuncts are often the last call when another section of a course needs to be added, so they may not get their assignment until a week or two ahead of the semester. “That doesn’t give them much time to do the prep work and it sets them up for frustration,” Zendell says. “It risks creating a pernicious state of inequity within the faculty.”

Courseware is one particular place where adjuncts need support if institutions are going to address how gateway courses disproportionately impact minoritized and poverty-affected students. A part-time instructor assigned to a course on short notice may not be familiar with the particular courseware product or with how the department or program intends for it to support the learning objectives. 

As several other articles on this site have detailed, effective implementation of courseware depends on:

Those practices are unlikely in gateway courses without support for the adjunct faculty who are often teaching them.

Practical Ways to Support Adjuncts Who Are Using Courseware

Zendell recommends the following:

  1. Provide training on courseware prior to the start of class and throughout the semester. Include knowledge transfer from the full-time faculty who designed the course.
  2. Give part-time faculty a sandbox to practice in. This is especially important for faculty new to using courseware in their teaching.
  3. Provide wraparound support for the adjunct and the students using the courseware. This can involve the LMS team, the faculty program director, and technical support staff.
  4. Build a faculty learning community so adjuncts have others who are using courseware to exchange ideas with.
  5. Check in with the part-time teaching faculty throughout the term. Ask them for their observations. What are their pain points, and where are students struggling?

Involve Part-Time Faculty in Courseware Implementation

Oftentimes courseware—and the courses using it—are designed by full-time faculty. But Zendell believes it’s important to engage part-time faculty in the design, development, and updates of the courseware as well as into how it is implemented across multiple sections of a course. 

“When you bring in different expertise and perspectives, you can make the course a lot richer for students,” she says. Both part-time and full-time faculty need enough time to participate in the process. Allow the part-time faculty to participate in the pilot and follow up with community meetings at least quarterly. And if possible, provide additional compensation for participating in the courseware design.

Additional Resources for Adjuncts Using Courseware

Zendell recommends several resources for additional information on courseware:

  1. Courseware Gateway provides comparisons of pricing for various courseware products, as well as practical advice for administrators and faculty. For example, see articles like:
  2. EDUCAUSE offers learning communities, webinars, and in-depth reports on topics like student success and teaching and learning.
  3. Inside Higher Ed features a section on technology and innovation
  4. The Online Learning Consortium features material for new online faculty including a guide titled Supporting Online Adjunct Faculty Across Institutional Roles: An Inclusive Action Plan for Academic Leaders and Instructional Support Staff.

Provide Support Before and Throughout the Semester

If contingent faculty aren’t well versed in the courseware the institution depends on to serve students in gateway courses, it can translate to a poor learning experience and frustrated students. 

On the other hand, if adjuncts have the support they need, understand how to use the technology, and can monitor a student’s progress through the courseware dashboard, they can contribute powerfully to the institution’s student success goals. Colleges and universities depending on adjuncts must provide access to professional development resources, promote faculty engagement, and enable data-driven decision making that empowers adjuncts to enhance their teaching effectiveness.

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