October 19, 2010

Working With Part-Time Faculty to Enhance Teaching and the Curriculum: A Top 10 List

By: in Faculty Development

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Part-time faculty make essential contributions to our programs. Their part-time status often limits their contact with other faculty and their knowledge about the program in which they are teaching. Program coordinators and directors often provide the only contact between the two, and so play a critical but challenging leadership role. However, coordinators may also tend to work in isolation from one another and may lack opportunities to share experiences and learn from one another.

The following are the steps taken in strengthening the curriculum and teaching of a multi-section, required course within an undergraduate administration program at a school within a large, urban university, taught by a number of part-time faculty. A round-table discussion on these steps was held this summer at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’s 30th Annual Conference, to explore further the pedagogical and administrative challenges that can result in overseeing and developing part-time faculty, to problem solve, and to share successful strategies for coordinating part-time faculty within a program.

These reform suggestions will address four key areas of coordination focus: oversight, instructors, teaching environment, and curriculum. From our experience, the following steps are critical in successfully coordinating part-time faculty within a program:

OVERSIGHT

1. Understand roles, responsibilities, agreements and by-laws. It is important for both program coordinators and part-time faculty members to operate from a position of knowledge of their respective rights and responsibilities, from the outset. For a given institution, relevant information sources could include by-laws, collective bargaining agreements (for a unionized setting), employment contracts and position descriptions for individual administrative officers, as applicable. Guidance may be sought from colleagues, staff, the faculty association or external advisors, in understanding how individual provisions may apply or be interpreted in a given circumstance.

2. Disclose and manage conflicts of interest. Many publicly traded organizations are subject to a regulatory requirement to have a code of conduct (or the equivalent), including a conflict of interest policy, with annual sign-off and disclosure. Not-for-profit organizations, including educational institutions, should also have a robust and implemented conflict of interest policy. Conflicts manifest themselves within various forms in an academic setting, including choice of instructors, service providers, text books, resources, course allocation, etc., and should be based on the best interests of the organization, including all stakeholders with preference towards none, not on favoritism, self-dealing, or other personal or pecuniary interests. It is important for conflicts, or the appearance of a conflict, to be detected, disclosed and managed via an enforced and well-understood policy.

INSTRUCTORS

3. Hire part-time faculty whose career and reputation benefit from university teaching. Care should be devoted to recruitment and retention of new part-time faculty. Industry associations, regulatory bodies, professional networks and contacts, and advertising may be used, as appropriate. Past teaching evaluations should be scrutinized and references contacted. Our experience has been best with individuals for whom the primary motivator is not financial remuneration, but rather non-financial objectives, such as career fulfillment, opportunities to learn, profile enhancement and self-actualization. Long-term career aspirations should be discussed when interviewing prospective part-time faculty, to ensure interests on both sides are aligned and the investments made by both parties will be fruitful.

4. Monitor and mentor teaching performance of part-time faculty. Full-time faculty should be approving exams and assignments produced by part-time faculty as appropriate, on an ongoing basis. At least once per calendar year, classroom visitations and detailed feedback should be provided for all part-time faculty (new and incumbent). Items such as the use of technology, classroom discussion facilitation, voice control, achievement of learning objectives and teaching methodology, and assessment of student and course evaluations could be the basis for the annual review. The review should include detailed reporting, follow up and debriefing. Improvements and remediation should be suggested if warranted.

5. Establish effective succession planning and teaching development. Overdependence on a small number of part-time faculty members is a common pitfall for many program directors. Often, overdependence develops because the part-time faculty members involved have demonstrated teaching strength, reliability, and flexibility – it is easy to hire them term after term! However, the downside of overdependence is felt when these instructors discontinue their teaching, and there are no experienced instructors to take their places. In order to prevent overdependence, program directors should consider instituting policies that ensure adequate depth in, and renewal of the instructor pool. Such policies may call for rotation of part-time faculty members, maintenance of a minimum number of part-time faculty teaching with active teaching roles within an academic year, and/or limits on the number of courses offered to a part-time faculty member each year. Teaching development for newer members of the instructor pool can be facilitated by techniques such as team teaching and mentoring of new instructors by experienced faculty.

Dr. Richard W. Leblanc is an associate professor of Law, Governance & Ethics at York University in Toronto. He can be reached at rleblanc@yorku.ca. Sandra Scott is the former undergraduate program director at the School of Administrative Studies at York University. She can be reached at sjscott@uoguelph.ca.

Editor’s Note: Part two of this article will be published tomorrow. It will cover issues regarding teaching environment and curriculum, as well as an encouraging set of conclusions from the authors.

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