November 24, 2008

Four Ways to Support and Retain Your Online Adjuncts

By: in Distance Learning Administration, Faculty Development, Online Education

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If your institution offers online courses, you know that finding quality adjuncts is only half of the staffing battle. Keeping them is sometimes even more difficult. Defections are common as adjuncts report feeling disconnected from the campus community they serve, and there’s always competition from other schools who may offer a better pay rate.

At Florida Community College at Jacksonville (FCCJ), the key to retaining quality online adjuncts is a comprehensive support program that has grown to keep pace with the school’s web-based offerings. With more than 300 part-time adjuncts in 38 different states, it is critical to make these online instructors feel they are as much a part of the team as regular, full-time faculty, says Dr. Kimberly Hardy, dean of instruction and student success at FCCJ.

In the recent seminar Training and Supporting Online Adjuncts: Practical Ideas, Hardy, outlined the strategies the school uses to support its online adjunct faculty members and help them succeed.

The FCCJ program features a network of support that includes components in four major areas: building communities, professional development, communication, and social and technical support.

1. Online Communities: Each new online adjunct is required to attend orientation. Hosted in Blackboard, the orientation includes modules on a variety of topics ranging from course policies and procedures to syllabus information and other resources. There’s also a virtual community with active discussion forums on specific disciplines, such as social sciences, math and business, as well as broader issues such as proctoring tests and online pedagogy.

2. Professional Development, Training and Certification: FCCJ offers a number of professional development opportunities that are free to all faculty and staff, including full- and part-time adjuncts. Further, completion of the Online Professor Certificate Program earns the instructors an honorarium of $500 and a pay-per-course increase.

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3. Proactive and Consistent Communication: To keep adjuncts connected and inspired, FCCJ relies heavily on its communities in Blackboard but also sends regular communiqués on accomplishments, announcements and other relevant information, and conducts live webinars and podcasts that provide adjuncts with the opportunity to ask questions.

4. Social and Technical Support: An online mentoring program supports new online adjuncts in their first year. These peer mentors serve as liaisons between the adjuncts and the distance learning office, while providing both technical and emotional support.

Although the FCCJ program is well-established and quite robust, Hardy notes many of the components outlined here can be created with small, inexpensive steps that will make a big difference when it comes to training, supporting and retaining online adjuncts.

“We have to keep in mind that our adjuncts are teaching not only for us, but for other institutions as well,” Hardy says. “So, we’re in competition with other colleges. Colleges who oftentimes can pay them more than we can, especially if they’re teaching for for-profit institutions or some private colleges that do have good pay rates. So, we have to come up with other ways of retaining our adjuncts rather than compensation, and really be creative in our support that we provide, because that can have a big impact on retaining good, quality instructors.”

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