Adjunct faculty program retooled for pandemic

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The onset of the Covid pandemic forced the Alamo Colleges District (ACD) to retool its adjunct faculty certification program (AFCP) — which serves approximately 1,400 adjuncts among the district’s five colleges — and deliver it 100% online.

ACD launched the program in 2016 to provide professional development for part-time faculty who teach many classes throughout the system. The faculty members were not primarily educators; they came from many different fields.

“Adjuncts are important,” said Carmen Mercédez, the district’s director of instructional professional and organizational development. “They are a valuable piece of the community, and we need to provide them opportunities to have professional development.”

Before the pandemic, the district offered AFCP on-site and in-person only. Building relationships with potential future faculty members was an important goal of the program. Faculty fellows teach courses at each college, and ACD hopes they will build relationships there with adjunct faculty.

The team will share its experience in helping part-time faculty thrive during the pandemic at a May 3 session during the AACC Annual in New York City.

Two-phase approach

ACD offers the program in two phases. In the first phase, participants learn about the art and science of teaching. They complete at least 24 hours of required professional development courses, the department chair observes one of their classes, and they do a 10–15 minute presentation on how they will implement what they are learning in Phase I.

In Phase II, they select courses that target the skills they most want to improve. They also give a 30-35 minute teaching demonstration that illustrates at least three teaching strategies they learned in the program.

“When it comes to the courses that we teach in (the adjunct faculty certification program), the most rewarding thing is hearing some of the testimonials from the adjuncts themselves,” said Scott D’Amico, faculty development lead for ACD. “I’ve had adjuncts who teach in areas like diesel technology that have gone to one session and completely transformed the way they’ve taught that session, and then immediately saw successful results.”

Regroup and retool

When the pandemic hit and the program moved online, ACD had to retool many aspects of the program. Team member Bobbie Myatt, faculty development lead for the district, is an expert in online and innovative digital teaching and learning environments. She led the ACM team as it identified best practices for moving the program online.

The team condensed some parts of the program and a mini online teaching certification format. They also created two-week modules with consistent design so students would always know where to find assignments, discussions and items they needed to review.

“There was a large undertaking of restructuring all of (the courses) because previously individual course facilitators built their individuality into each course,” Myatt said.

Despite the emphasis on consistency, Myatt was also careful to retain each facilitator’s personality within the module.

The revamping, she said, was “fairly easy.” “All the content was there, and it was just a matter of getting it to flow in the right direction. And I think we achieved that.”

“(The remote program) better meets the needs of adjunct faculty who found it hard sometimes to go to events in the evenings and on the weekends,” said Elizabeth Plummer, faculty development specialist for ACD. “And now it’s a little easier for them to do it, creating a more long-term sustainable program.”

A new way of seeing things

Mercédez admits that she was concerned about losing the sense of collegiality when the program went online. But she now realizes that there are many ways to build community within the courses.

“They were able to engage in valuable conversations and provide each other support throughout this process,” she said. “That was, for me, a big win.”

Throughout the pandemic, the team adjusted its delivery of the program to accommodate the Covid-related issues of their students.

“Sensitivity was important,” Mercédez said. “We made sure that we provided support. A lot of people were isolated. The adjunct faculty certification program was a way for them to feel connected to the college environment when they weren’t at the college. So it was an unexpected consequence and an unexpected win.”

The team views its 100% online program delivery as a success. Still, the group wants to offer hybrid versions of the program in the future. Now, the program’s first phase remains online, but there is more flexibility in the second phase for in-person professional development.

Myatt noted that faculty members who experienced the online program could apply many aspects of their courses to what they were presenting to their students online.

“It opens the eyes of all instructors because when they can see the learner’s perspective, it brings a lot of relevancy…. It provoked compassion for their learners because now they’re there on that side of the coin,” she said.

Now, there is a significant influx of faculty wanting to learn more about using technology in education, Myatt said.

About the Author

Michele Hujber
Michele Hujber is a freelance writer for higher education institutions and related organizations.