Study calls for clearer rules for adjuncts teaching online classes

About 75 percent of faculty are part-time or adjuncts nationwide.

Benjamin Farniok

Adjunct faculty members instructing online courses often don’t receive enough training, according to a recent study.

 

The study, released earlier this month, suggested schools develop clearer policies and laid out a number of problems with adjuncts teaching online classes.

 

The report found many institutions do not have specific rules to handle faculty who teach online courses. Seventy-four percent have written policies for how often they are expected to interact with students, and 42 percent have policies detailing when instructors must respond to student inquiries.

 

Natalie Hunt, a post-doctoral associate for the Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering Department, said she taught an online food systems class over the summer. She said she found communicating with students could be difficult.

 

“If there is a really neat idea that the student is feeling really inspired about from the reading material or the course content, we don’t have the opportunity to develop it or really talk about it,” Hunt said.

 

Students who are struggling in class or are having other difficulties are contacted directly by instructors over email, Hunt said, but it’s not a requirement.

 

The study’s authors conducted the study after they learned there were many adjuncts who teach online courses.  And the number of adjunct faculty in colleges across the country is expected to rise, said Russell Poulin, policy and analysis director with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education Cooperative for Educational Technologies, a nonprofit that studies online learning.

 

He said the number of adjuncts nationwide is expected to increase by 5 percent over the next year. At the University of Minnesota, one-third of instructional staff were considered part time last school year, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

 

The report recommended involving adjuncts more deeply in school governance and making more consistent rules for online adjuncts, because many large universities’ rules are so different.

 

Defining practices for training adjunct faculty members as well as policies for student interaction was a goal of the study, said Andrew Magda, manager of marketing research of The Learning House, an online higher education development company that worked on the study.

 

Some colleges provided adjunct online faculty with as much as three weeks of training, which would often create better student outcomes than schools that provided minimal training, Magda said.

 

“One advisor said she hoped she could get an hour with each new faculty member,” he said.

 

The report recommends being more clear with instructors to better inform them of the duties that other faculty members might not have.

Online teaching is also stable, Magda said, as many instructors are able to continue teaching the same course from semester to semester, he said.