Editor’s Note: In yesterday’s article, the authors introduced steps for overcoming some of the administrative challenges when working with part-time faculty. Here, in part two of the article, they outline strategies for overcoming some of the pedagogical challenges.
6. Document policies and expectations. A consistent, high-quality learning experience is best achieved when the expectations of part-time faculty members are clear. An up-to-date “Instructor Handbook” documenting expectations of and resources available to part-time faculty, and acting as a repository for part-time faculty questions, is essential. The Handbook we created was organized to cover the following topics:
- Organization, Contractual Duties and Responsibilities;
- Your Course Materials and Website, Teaching and Incorporation of Student Feedback;
- Your Mid-Term and Final Examination;
- Your Marking Process and the Design and Effectiveness of Internal Controls Over Marking;
- Important Dates, Course Administration and Registration and the Student Complaint Process; and
7. Establish an effective (re)orientation program for part-time faculty. In most cases, part-time faculty members spend the bulk of their time engaged with students, and preparing individually for classes. There is often little contact with full-time or part-time colleagues, except through electronic or phone communications. In order to counteract the isolation that can develop in the role, an annual (re)orientation program is necessary. An orientation program can perform multiple functions: a celebration of teaching achievements, an introduction to staff (including perhaps library, technology, student services, financial and wellness staff), discussion of proposed curriculum changes, an overview of policy updates and implementation practices, to name a few. At the same time, networks are being developed, relationships are being maintained, and ideas are being exchanged.
It is important for the Dean (or designate) to attend, to offer welcoming remarks and acknowledge the contributions of part-time faculty.
8. Design and implement effective internal controls over student assessment. It is important that assessment practices are, and are perceived to be, equitable within a course, across sections and terms, regardless of the particular instructor. Accordingly, robust internal controls over assessment are a key ingredient in the delivery of consistent, high-quality learning experiences. Achieving consistency requires coordination, and may require the use of including detailed answer keys and marking rubrics. The integrity of the grades reporting process should also be guarded, through restricted access, segregation of duties, reconciliations, data security, automated spread-sheet procedures and calculations, identification of manual over-rides, and testing to substantiate manual entries.
9. Establish a robust course curriculum, learning objectives and assessment tasks. Full-time faculty should be charged with, and accountable for, curriculum development and approval of the content of the courses part-time faculty teach. Program courses should be integratively mapped to address program expectations and learning outcomes. Within each course, detailed learning objectives, teaching activities and evaluation methods should be explicit and aligned with one another. The course syllabus should be peer-reviewed, published, up-to-date, detailed and comprehensive, with overall and weekly learning outcomes clearly documented. It is important that the syllabus focus not on ‘covering a list of topics,’ but rather developing competencies and abilities to apply processes within different contexts.
A highly developed syllabus enables part-time instructors to achieve the goal of consistent, high quality curriculum delivery, despite differences in their teaching styles and the experiences they bring to the classroom.
10. Solicit part-time faculty input into regular curriculum reviews. Regular curriculum reviews and updates are an essential part of any successful program. From their position in the front lines of curriculum delivery, part-time faculty can often provide valuable insights into the update process. Many can offer additional unique perspectives by virtue of their simultaneous participation within the realms of practical experience and education. Involving part-time faculty has lateral benefits as well – they are aware of the changes, and are more likely to understand the rationale for the changes and be aligned with them. Furthermore, soliciting part-time faculty input underlines the importance of the role these faculty members play in the program, and the education process.
Taking a deliberate, thoughtful approach to coordinating part-time faculty leads to positive outcomes for students, faculty and the broader program. Some of the positive outcomes we have observed in the aftermath of implementing these steps for one of our large multi-section courses include:
- improved student experience (instructor ratings for the course involved now fall entirely within the highest range (4+/5); course evaluations consistently rank highest, or amongst the highest of our large multi-section courses);
- streamlined administrative processes (consistency in teaching approach and assessment methodologies has led to fewer administrative appeals (grade reappraisal requests and expressions of student concern, for example);
- co-operative, constructive faculty relationships (part-time instructors bring diverse external experience and fresh views on student learning to the table – they provide important contributions to the curricular design and assessment undertaken by full-time faculty); and
- sharing amongst coordinator group (multi-area orientation sessions were organized, policy manuals were shared and updated, successes and challenges were discussed).
Setting the stage for part-time faculty success involves upfront and ongoing investment in recruiting, curriculum, and the teaching environment. The benefits to be realized make that investment well worthwhile.
Dr. Richard W. Leblanc is an associate professor of Law, Governance & Ethics at York University in Toronto. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sandra Scott is the former undergraduate program director at the School of Administrative Studies at York University. She can be reached at email@example.com.