Club Admiralty

v7.0 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

Technology will save us all!


...or wait... will it?

It's been a while since I wrote something on here†, and in all honesty, I thought about taking a sabbatical from blogging to focus on dissertation-related matters.  However, I really hate the current practice of threading on twitter where someone writes 10, 20, 30, or 40 tweets in a thread.  We've even invented an app to make these threads more readable.  I can't roll my eyes hard enough at this because it's a solution for a problem we shouldn't have.  We have long-form means of communicating - they are called blogs.  But anyway - I'll cease my "get off my lawn"-ness and move on to the point.  Now, where was I?  Oh yeah... I wanted to respond to something I saw on twitter, but I didn't was to just create a stupidly long thread.

So, in case you have not been paying attention, there is a bit of a global health scare going on, namely COVID-19 (or Coronavirus as the media calls it). It's gotten to the point where cities, states, or even whole regions are under quarantine.

Screenshot of WHO COVID-19 tracker
The question that comes to our mind, as education professionals, is this: well, what happens to school?  And people tend to respond by saying "put it online! problem solved!"  Well... the problem is not solved.  There is no magic fairy dust that will make this a "turnkey" solution or any other marketing jargon that will make this seamless. I've been seeing a whole lot of non-sense tweets about this over the last few days as more and more universities are announcing that they are going online...for now.  I've (snarkily) written responses like "I think I rolled my eyes so hard I experienced whiplash...🙄" to both technoloving, and technohating tweets. But I think it's important to be a little more detailed in my 🙄reaction to some of these so that we can have a constructive conversation around this topic, and so that I don't just come off as a snarky teenager saying "OK, boomer".

So a fellow colleague tweeted the following:
Hello #MOOC platform providers  @edXOnline @coursera @udacity @udemy @FutureLearn @CanvasLMS and others: many higher education institutions are in need of scalable technologies to serve the needs of students and teachers in times of the #COVID19 #coronavirus crisis. Can you help?

Canvas may be the exception here, seeing as they have a "regular" LMS that they also use for their Canvas Network MOOC platform, but most MOOC platforms are awful. I saw this as a user of them!  Yes, I do enjoy the free livelong learning content that they provide‡ but those platforms have been created with very specific UX design constraints in mind. Furthermore, many appear to rely on pre-recorded videos for their pedagogical approach, something which really won't mesh well with the short timeframes that we might be experiencing in the coming weeks♠.  There is also an issue in thinking that a technology solutions provider will be your best bet as a subject-expert contact to help your institution to move online.  They sell a product.  A product with specific design and pedagogical constraints, and - as we've seen recently - with potentially murky data practices.  Your go-to shouldn't be a technology provider to solve your issues.  Your go-to should be the staff that you employ at your university.  Your instructional designers, systems architects, and IT/IS people. They are the ones that know your needs, and they can figure out what the minimally viable product is.  If it turns out that edx is the right platform for you...then guess what?  It's open-source, you can run it on your own!  The same is true with operating systems like Moodle and Sakai, and they are not MOOC related, and have been used to deliver courses at a distance for 18 years!

Another colleague wrote:
Taking college courses temporarily online as an emergency measure to provide minimally acceptable continuity of instruction in response to a pandemic is not an admission that MOOCs are a good or even acceptable substitute for in-person teaching.

The three fallacies here are as follows:

  • You are conflating MOOCs with distance learning broadly.
  • You are assuming that MOOCs are just "lousy products"
  • You are putting on-campus courses on a pedestal.

MOOCs being conflated with any (and all) forms on distance learning has been happening since xMOOCs hit the market in 2011/2012. They are not one and a the same.  MOOCs are a form of distance learning, but they are not the form of distance learning.  MOOCs are also not a bad product.  You always have to go back and ask "what is our goal?" and even then "what is this good for?"  The adhesive used on post-it notes is a lousy product.  Yes, you heard it right.  It's a lousy product because the goal was to develop a super-strong adhesive. However, someone saw this product and created an ingenious use for it, and something that couldn't have existed without the lousy product was created♥. MOOCs have their purpose. It may not be the lofty goal of democratizing education¤ that we kept hearing back in 2012, but that doesn't mean that they are failures in totality.

On another track, many colleagues have been posting about this outbreak being the perfect opportunity for institutions to embrace online learning, and that this global turn of events will (magically) make people see the light. The unspoken assumption being that attitudes will change, and long-term practices will change.  This is completely and utterly false, and it's exemplified by the tweet above.   Vanguards of the "campus is best for learning" camp won't experience an attitudinal change en masse because of this turn of events.  They'll most likely hold their metaphorical nose, get through it, and then go back to their established practices.  Why?  Many reasons§, but here are the highlights IMO:

Attitudinal change requires an open mind - I don't think most campus faculty have that when it comes to pedagogy (sorry!). This lack of creativity, I would say comes from a lack in pedagogical training.  Doctoral programs prepare you to research, and teaching is always secondary (or even tertiary!).  It seems like many doctoral programs just drop people into teaching situations and have them sink or swim (pretty stressful, if you ask me!).  So what happens? Those doctoral students rely on mimicry - doing what they've seen done unto them in the classroom.  Maybe some will break through this cycle and experiment with pedagogy, but that's not a given. And, when faculty are hired lots of attention is paid to attending conferences and publishing, but little (if any) on teaching PD! So, previous behavior and belief patterns are reinforced through the pre-tenure period¶ and in your post-tenure period∞.  I don't need to see the outcome of the coronavirus to know that teaching faculty with these attitudes will use distance learning like a rented car, and when their ride is back from the shop, they will never think about the affordances (and the learners that might need online learning) again...or at least until the next emergency.

Anyway - to wrap this up, one voice that is conspicuously absent is the voice of staff members in this.  Staff will be called upon to support learners at a distance, and/or faculty who will (maybe, possibly, probably) be teaching online for a little while.  What is their role in all this?  How are they supported to do their work, and what are their thoughts and needs in the process.  The university is a complex organism but only faculty are seen as valuable stakeholders here🙄. This attitude needs to change if we are to have productive solutions and discussions when it comes to emergencies.

thoughts? comments?

Notes and Marginalia:
† hey, this is starting to sound like a confessional...let's see where it goes...
‡ I am currently signed up for 2 MOOCs on FutureLearn and 1 on EdX
♠ I'd also argue that Udemy is more of a self-paced eLearning platform and not a MOOC LMS...but that's a whole other discussion.
♥ and used all over the world in offices today
¤ personally I think this goal was overstated as people got swept up in the MOOC fever and institutional FOMO.  We might be seeing another kind of FOMO here with this coronavirus.
§ and probably best suited for a separate blog post
¶ where you might be on emergency-mode all the time while you're attempting to get tenure
∞ if your institution hasn't spent too much time fretting about your teaching until now, why would they do it in the future?


Hey! This isn't what I signed up for!


In my last blog post I was responding to the academy that isn't - or, perhaps, as some comments indicated, the academy that never actually was.  This past week I was at MIT's LINC conference.  It was a good opportunity to attend (since it was local), listen into some interesting panel discussions, and meet some folks from all over the world doing interesting things.  It was also a good opportunity to connect with folks (via twitter mostly for me) to think about academia (and the role it has) from a systems point of view.  I was rather happy to have been there to see Peter Senge speak at the end of LINC 2019 as he is a systems person, and someone whose work was foundational in my instructional design learning.

Now, I wasn't really planning a follow up to my last post.  I sort of wrote it in order to contribute my 2-cents to the discussion, as a response to @Harmonygritz (George), and also point people to it when they ask me if I want to pursue a tenure-track job.  However, the topic of faculty not being prepared  to do what their schools ask them to do came up on twitter during my #mitlinc2019 posts (via @ksbourgault) and oddly enough when I returned home and checked the subreddit r/professors the following post was made by one of the users:

I got into academia because I love creating and sharing knowledge. As I sit here working through my day, I can't help but wonder how I turned into a website administrator and customer service agent. Next year I've been told I'm going to have administration/management duties I never wanted and won't be very good at. I used to be the kind of person that didn't work a day in their life because I loved what I did. Now...well...getting through the days require medication. God dammit. Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.

So, I thought - what the heck?  Why not write about this?  After all, some people tend to give you a strangle glance when you point out the problem but offer no solutions.  So, is my tenative solution, as imperfect as it may be.

As I mentioned in my previous post, a tenured (or tenure-track) professor job has three main responsibilities: Teaching, Research, and Service. I would say that here, at the "job description" level there is a problem. Faculty are not prepared for all of these things during their studies.  Faculty are only prepared for one thing in their doctoral studies.  That one thing is Research.

Educating credible, ethical, and competent researchers is the distinguishing characteristic of a doctoral program and that is what makes as doctoral program different from a master's program.  Some people may argue with me that this is specific to a "PhD" whereas an "EdD" is more applied in nature - but I respectfully disagree; I've written this in another blog post year ago, and I am sticking with it. The crux of my argument was this:  Both PhDs and EdDs need to be able to critically consume literature, critically produce research literature, and critically apply research literature.  If you can't do that, then there is a problem.

What you'll notice is that those three verbs (consume, produce, apply) do not include the verb "to teach".  This is something that, in my opinion, could be remedied at the doctoral education level.  It's also something that could be remedied at the hiring level.  K-12 teachers (and other professionals) are expected to complete a certain amount of hours in CPD (continuous professional development) every year to maintain their teaching license.  Why not tenure-track faculty?  My fellow instructional designers bemoan the fact that faculty rarely reach out to them for training, and no one attends the workshops that they spend a lot of time on preparing.  Well, I can tell you why (and I've told my colleagues this too):  This type of CPD is not something that is valued at an institutional level.  No one is forcing faculty members to attend CPD sessions and apply what they learn in their teaching. It's not something that faculty get 'brownie points' on their annual reviews for, and when push comes to shove and they need something to clear off their places, CPD is it.   In my proposal I would say that doctoral students should get their "starter pack" in instructional design and teaching while they are doing their doctoral studies, and then they continue with CPD at the workplace (and have it be required).  Simple.

But, hold on, let me get a little more granular here, because I think it's needed. My proposal doesn't just stop at mandatory CPD.  I would argue that - depending on the needs of the organisation - the job duties of the "professor" position should be malleable and negotiable every so often. What do I mean by this?  Well, I'd say that we should start off with two "starter" JDs (job descriptions), and for a lack of better terms I'll call them:
  • Researching Professor (RP)
  • Teaching Professor (TP)
The RP would spend 25% of their time teaching, and 75% of the time applying and getting grants, and researching and publishing.  The TP would spend 75% of their time teaching and 25% of their time researching and publishing.  Both positions would be compensated the same, would get the same prestige, and the same benefits, but there would be a difference in how they were evaluated.  A researcher would be mostly evaluated on the quality and volume of their published work, they would need to attend teaching CPD (although I think less than a TP), and they would be evaluated on their teaching, but we'd go "light" on them since this would be a part time responsibility on them.   The TP on the other hand would be required to have higher amounts of teaching & learning CPD for the year, given their teaching-first responsibilities, and conversely would be evaluated annually with more weight going to the teaching than the research output.  This is important because at the moment (from my own little microcosm) I see a lot of emphasis placed on research and publishing in tenure and promotion cases.  Knowing what "track" you've applied to, and what track you are in is extremely important in my proposed model.

Another key element here is the negotiability of the position.  How frequently this happens is up to the organizational needs.  But, let's say that I am hired into a TP-tenure-track position and after a few years of courses I really want to focus a bit on my research for the next year or two. Maybe I want to be 50-50 (teaching/research), maybe I want to be 25/75 (thus being moved into the RP structure).  This should be negotiable between the faculty member and the chair - keeping in mind the needs of the department as well as the needs of the individual.  Likewise, if I am in an RP-type of position but my department suddenly has a ton new students and needs me to teach more courses, I could negotiate to go into a TP-type position for a year or two with this new cohort of learners, and thus be evaluated mostly on my teaching.  The key thing here with evaluations is that we don't privilege teaching over research (and vice versa) when conducting annual evaluations (or even tenure/promotion evaluations).

But...wait!  You are asking me "what happened to service???"  Well... service is kind of a tricky subject, isn't it?  I would treat the service category as a category that would push a faculty member to the "exceed expectations" category of the annual job evaluation, and because of this consideration, the service category would potentially want merit pay (for a job well done, not just having it on paper). One reason for this is that lots of things could fall under service: such as: Organizing a conference, undertaking student advising, sitting on someone's thesis/dissertation committee, doing some marketing for the program or recruiting new students, serving on the library committee, or on the technology advisory board, etc. Because there is such variety in terms of service postings it's hard to say what faculty should or should not be part of. However, CPD and some method of evaluation should be part of these service decisions.

For example, when I was an undergraduate, meetings with my major advisor were short, he looked at my transcript, signed off on courses I wanted with very little dialog, even when I tried to engage about my interests in computer science and future goals I'd basically hear crickets, and that was about it. Except, when my GPA dipped and he advised me to change major - instead of figuring out why this was the case, where my areas of deficit were, and how to improve (I guess he was worried about departmental averages than retaining students in the STEM field...).  In the meantime (last 15 years) I've met faculty "advisors" from all across campus that "advise" students without even knowing the degree requirements for their own programs. This is just plain wrong. So, taking this as a use-case as an example, if your service advising I'd say that those faculty members should attend CPD to get informed (and test on) departmental, college, and university policies; get trained on degree requirements; know the costs of attending college; and getting to know people in other departments that support students (such as the writing center, the ADA center, and so on).

There are some service duties that faculty shouldn't be in charge of.  Marketing and recruitment being one of them (I am sure there are others too).  Faculty just don't have the skill set, and it's not really efficacious to have them obtain it.  There are positions on campus of people who do this type of thing.  If faculty want to switch careers, that's fine, but I do have an issue with faculty keeping their position as faculty while half-assing something (or worse, passing it onto staff...). Faculty can be part of these processes (of course), as experts in their own discipline and experts of their department, but really marketing and recruitment should reside elsewhere, not with faculty.

In the end, here are the guidelines for my NuFaculty setup:
  • Get rid of Tenured and Non-Tenured distinctions.  Everyone now becomes Tenure track with two possible starting points:  An RP and a TP. Having tenured and non-tenured tracks leads to discrimination and classism IMO. Just as there can be a lot of different types of professionals, there can be (and should be) a lot of different equal types of faculty.
  • Faculty get evaluated not on on a one-size-fits-all model, but rather based on their designated positions and through consultation with their department chairs
  • Faculty CPD is a requirement, especially for TP.  CPD factors into annual and tenure evaluations.
  • Positions are flexible based on the needs of the individuals and the needs of the department, but they need to be setup before the evaluation period begins (can't change horses in mid-stream...)
  • Faculty positions are 12 month positions, not 9 as they currently are now.  Yes, they accrue vacation time that they can take. As a 12-month employee they can decide when their "summers" are when they don't teach, so their period of teaching responsibility can be flexible, and this is a win-win both for faculty and the school.
  • Service isn't required for faculty positions, but highly encouraged.  To undertake service the appropriate service type needs to be matched with pre-existing skills.  CPD is available for those skills if faculty want to grow into that area, but you can't practice until you show some competency.  Depending on the department needs service can substitute for 25% of the research or teaching component with prior approval and for defined periods of time.
  • The incentive to sign up for service is merit pay.

Your thoughts?


What's the point of (higher) education?

With Campus Technology behind us, I've got some free time to compose some thoughts on what I experienced this year in Boston.  I like going to Campus Tech each year as I have an opportunity to attend some sessions, see what the EdTech vendors are up to, and meet with new and existing colleagues.  One of the keynotes this year, by SNHU (Southern New Hampshire University) President was really unsettling.

Whereas the keynotes in previous years seemed to be hinting toward innovation in higher education, this particular keynote, under the guise of disruptive innovation in higher education seemed to hint more toward a commodification of higher education, a de-professionalization of many types of jobs in the field, and a process for teaching and learning that reminded me of an industrial age model of education. This was a bit jarring to me, as a regular attendee (and twitter reporter) of campus technology each year.  On the one hand Paul LeBlanc (SNHU President) did sufficiently stir the waters and got enough people to talk about the state of academia, however I am not sure his innovation is really innovative and a sustainable direction for an institution.

LeBlanc has a variety of main points from which he built in. One of his points, and faults of the current system is that Faculty drive the process at traditional schools. Faculty think up of new courses, which go through a governance approval process, which is also time consuming.  SNHU's approach seems to be to disaggregate the faculty, let "SMEs" and IDs take care of the course and curriculum design, hire instructors to teach the same course without variation. This was troubling on a variety of levels.  First, LeBlac seems to be hinting at faculty as not being subject experts.  I disagree with this.  Faculty are hires precisely because they are subject experts.  They, in theory, know their field and keep up with the field.  They are in one of the better positions to think up new curriculum of modifications to the existing curriculum.

I agree that the governance process can take ridiculously long at times (oh, the stories I could share!), but that doesn't mean that we ought to get rid of this system. To me what it means is that we need to look at our current system and see how it can be made more efficient, not completely dismantle it.  LeBlac's rationale for this approach is that faculty don't know what's happening in the walls outside of academia, and therefore the only people who can actually inform the curriculum with what's really needed are Subject Experts (which weren't defined, by the way), from outside the walls of academia.

This narrative isn't something that LeBlanc alone reports. Anant Agarwal, of edx fame, in a recent article on Fortune cites a Deloitte survey  that "found that the overwhelming majority of respondents felt it was on-the-job skills—not what they had learned in college — that got them through their daily workload. The study concluded that there was a significant gap between the skills desired by workplaces and what those polled had actually possessed by graduation." This connects with LeBlanc's comments that CEOs say that graduates from colleges don't have the qualities that their companies are looking for.  I guess the solution is to let the CEOs (companies really) specify what they need. I do call this a bit BS though.  CEOs are often not the best judges to know what skills front-line employees need to have.  To have them have an opinion on what skills undergraduates need for their companies is asking for misinformed opinions.

Another aspect of the presentation was time-to-completion as a key factor.  While I do agree that time-to-completion is important (heck, nowhere is this more evident than the 8-10 year liberal arts PhD!), but I do think that we are diluting learning into cram-and-jam sessions when we advertise 1 year Master degrees (just as an example).  I see this at work.  A number of potential students ask if our degree can be completed in year.  The answer is: no. I suppose that theoretically it could, 4 classes in the fall, 4 in the spring, comprehensive exams in the spring, and 2 electives in the summer and you're done.  But, what have you really learned?  You've crammed just enough to write those papers and take those exams, but have you really learned anything?  Never mind application, because application supposes that you've learned something. In cases like these I suspect that people just want some sheepskin to show that they've "learned" something so that they can get their raise, or change jobs, or whatever.

This argumentation of time-to-degree fits in with the 'adults are busy' narrative.  Adults have lives, jobs, responsibilities, they just don't have time for the "long road" to education.  While I also do hate pedantry in my own educational experiences, I guess what bothers me about this attitude is two things.  First, it treats traditional education as some sort of jail where you must put in your time (while singing nobody knows my sorrow), and it treats these accelerated "for adults" degrees the same way Alan Thicke is presenting Tahiti Village in this ad. Education can be hard, it can take time to acquire, and it needs effort to apply it.  Most else that can be broken down into discreet steps to follow, and are applicable to specific jobs, is really on the job training.

The other thing that bugs me is that there is still an infantilization of the traditional college age goer, the 18-year0old students. These students, according to LeBlanc and other supporters of the difference between "adults" and "kids" believe that traditional college age individuals need an 'incubation' or 'maturation' environment before they hit real life, and college is it. I think that treating 18-year-olds like they need maturation is completely and utter baloney.  As a first generation college graduate I know that my parents (and indeed many friends and family in our circle), didn't go to college to mature. They had jobs, they had family responsibilities, societal responsibilities, at age 18 (some even earlier).  This infantilization is the traditional college demographic does harm to them, and us.
 It only serves as an artificial separation of one group of students - the one who had a break in their education, from the student who went straight from high school to college. Instead of infantilizing one group, how about defining academic supports that are unique to each group?

This keynote reminded me of another, equally ridiculous post, on why MOOCs will fail to displace traditional universities (I was not aware they were competing with one another).  The main theses of the author are that MOOCs aren't dating sites, whereas colleges are - and people apparently attend college to find a mate; and the other is that college is a signal to potential employers that you (a) can get into college, so you must be wicked smaht, and (b) you have the perseverance to make it through, so they should hire you. What a bunch of BS.

The first fault here is the issue of causation vs correlation.   The author cites Assortative Mating [which can basically be boiled down to individuals who are alike pairing up] as a reason why colleges have additional value for people who attend - they provide an environment of other smaht people as potential mates. The issue here is that college isn't the only environment where people pair up. The workplace, and any other place that creates a community is a place where people can meet others with similar interests, hobbies, political thought, education, and whatnot. Could we claim that people search for jobs in order to find mates? Some might, but I don't think this is generalizable.

My own experience - college was that college was really a requirement.  Forget K-12,  K-16 seems to be the new expectation, and one that not everyone can afford!  Someone made it a requirement, but also forgot to make it free. Making college a requirement for many jobs is, as I have said before, sloppy HRM.

So, I'll end this post with the same question I started - What is the point of higher education? Thoughts?


Connecting the dots...thoughts about working in academia

[warning: lengthier post than usual] Before I left for December my mini vacation I had a holiday themed catch-up with a number of friends and colleagues on campus. With the semester winding down, and with the holidays as an excuse it was a good opportunity for people to get together and share some news about what had transpired over the past semester, share notes, best practices, and so on. One of my colleagues inquired how things are going in the office as far as admissions go. There seems to be some doom and gloom over falling admission on campus, but that's a topic for another day. Things are going well in my department (knock on wood), so much so that we are not able to admit all qualified applicants since we don't have enough people to teach for us.

My colleague's solution (my colleague is a full time instructional designer, for what it's worth) was that we need to "change the model," instead of relying on tenure stream professors to teach our courses, we could have subject matter experts design the online courses and hire and army of adjuncts to teach for us, thus the tenured professors would have a final say on the content and the adjunct, who costs less would teach to that content. This, after all, seems to be the model that other schools employ, especially those with online programs, so the message seemed to be that we need to get with the program and move from an outdated model.  Now tenure may have its issues but I think that swinging the pendulum mostly the other direction is the wrong solution. My bullshit alarm (for lack of a better term) starts to go off when I hear about some of these "new models" in the same ways by BS alarm went off when I was hearing about sub-prime mortgages and derivatives when I was an MBA student (you remember those?).

I don't know how I found myself in higher education administration, but I did end up here. As a matter of fact I am coming up to three years in my current job (closing in on that 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about!) The thing that became abundantly clear to me is that there is a compartmentalization of information, know-how, and most importantly understanding of what needs to happen in a large organization, such as a university, so simplistic solutions, such as "changing" the model become the norm in thinking. This is quite detrimental, in my opinion, to the overall longevity of programs. These simplistic solutions may come from the best of intentions, but when one doesn't have the entire information at their disposal it's easy to come to bad solutions.

First, we have an assumption that we don't have an overall curriculum, thus bringing the point of "master courses" that any ol' adjunct can teach. The fact is that we do have extensive program level outcomes in our program, and somewhat set curriculum.  At the broad level it is set, but at the day to day level there is flexibility for subject matter expertise.  I don't want to get into the issue of academic freedom, I find that this term gets abused to mean (almost) anything that faculty members want it to mean. However, in this case I do want to draw upon it to illustrate the point that at the day-to-day level of class, so long as faculty are meeting the learning objectives of the course, the readings that they choose as substitutes to the agreed-upon curriculum of the course (especially if more than 2 people are in charge of teaching the same course) is are not put under the microscope, and faculty aren't prevented from exercising their professional license.

Secondly, and most importantly, simplistic (and often cheap for the institution) solutions to expand capacity treat all adjuncts as the same an interchangeable. This is patently wrong on so many levels. The way I see is there are two types of adjuncts (those of you who study higher education administration may have more - please feel free to comment). The first type are the people who the adjunct system was "built" for.  Those are people like me: people who have a day-job somewhere, they enjoy what they do, and they share their practice with those who are training to enter our profession. Our day-job essentially pays our wages and what we do we do as service to the profession and for the love of teaching. This way the (usually) small payment per course can be really seen as an honorarium rather than as payment for services rendered.  The second type of adjunct is the person who is doing it as their day-job and they thus need to teach many courses (perhaps at multiple institutions) to make ends meet.  This second type of adjunct is probably what is most prevalent in academia today, at least from what I read.  Regardless of whether they are of type 1 or type 2, Adjuncts who teach, both for our institution and elsewhere, are professionals who have earned their PhDs, in many cases conduct research, and are active in their fields in one way or another; but most of all they are human beings. By coming to the table with the mentality that they are interchangeable, just give them a pre-made course shell and let them run with it, you are not only undermining their humanity but also their expertise in the field - after all someone you crank up and let them run doesn't necessarily have a voice to help your department improve their course offerings and their programs. You are shutting them out.

Now, at the moment, as a case study, let's take my program.  I would estimate that depending on the semester anywhere from 75%-90% of the online courses are taught by adjuncts.  In the summers (optional semesters) the ratio is actually the inverse. By hiring more adjucts, in order to matriculate more students, the tenure to non-tenure ratio gets more skewed. This, to me, is problematic.  A degree program isn't just about the 10 courses you take in order to complete you degree.  A degree program is about more than this, and tenure stream faculty (i.e. permanent faculty) are vital to the health of degree programs and to the success of learners in that degree program. Adjuncts, as seasonal employees are only hired to teach the courses that they are hired to teach, and nothing else. This represents a big issue for programs. Here is my list of six issues with over-reliance on adjunct labor

Issue 1: Advising

I must admit my own experience with advising, throughout my entire learner experience has been spotty at best.  Some students don't take advantage of advising, we think we know better and we know all the answers.  Some advisors treat advising as a period to get students signed up for courses.  Both attitudes are wrong.  Advising is about relationships. It's about getting to know the student, their goals, their intents, and their weaknesses and working with them to address those issues. At the end of a student's studies, the advising that occurred during the student's period of study should help them get to the next leg of where they are going to be, on their own.  Through this type of relationship building advisors get to know their advisees and can even provide references for them if they decide to move on to the next level of study, or if they require a reference for work. Even if one compensated adjuncts for advising, how do you quantify the pay?  Do you do it in terms of hours? That's kind of hard to do.  Even if you derived at a fair and equitable pay for the work, adjunct hiring is subject to volatility, you don't make a long term commitment to them, and they don't necessarily make it to you! (see issue 3).  This is no way to build an advising relationship.

Issue 2: committee work

This second issue brings us back to those master courses that my colleague talked about.  These things are decided by committee on the grand scheme since curriculum needs to make sense - it's not a hodgepodge of a little-bit-of-this and a little-bit-of-that. Faculty are not hourly employees, but adjuncts are sort of treated as hourly employees if we decide to compensate them for this type of work. It may work, but it might require punching a card.  For people who are basically paid honoraria do you really want to nickel and dime them? Sometimes committees meet for their usual x-hours per month and things are done fairly quickly, and other times committees meet many hours in preparation for accreditation, just as an example. This, of course, assumes that adjunct faculty members can do committee work for some additional pay (which usually isn't a lot). What if they can't? What if they have other priorities? If this is the case all of the work falls upon the few tenure-stream people in the department. This has the effect of both keeping adjuncts away from critical decisions and implementations made by the department, and it dumps more on the full time people in the department. Adding more adjuncts to the payroll would most likely serve to amplify this, and to add to the factory model of producing academic products.

Issue 3: department stability: vis-à-vis perpetual hiring

When you hire a full-time staff member chances are high that they will be around for a while if they are worth their salt. If you hire a faculty member, on the tenure stream, chances are that this is a career move and that this person won't be leaving any time soon.  This provides the department with stability in many ways.  It providers a core group of people to shepherd the department, its curriculum, and most importantly the students.  With adjuncts, given their semester to semester nature (i.e. no long term contract with the institution) it makes sense that these individuals will most likely be working elsewhere and have other commitments; or they might just be looking for a full time gig. In which case your institution or department will come second.  This isn't good, and if adjunct instructors leave your department you need to look for replacement. This adds to the workload of the few full-time faculty who need to start a search, review CVs, and go through and interview people.  This isn't a job for one person, but rather a job for a committee of at least 3 members to vet and verify what's on CVs and conduct the interviews.

Once the hiring is complete there is some mentoring that goes on to make sure that they are successful, and even then you aren't guaranteed that these new hires will work out. I'd say that you need at least 2, of not 3, semester to be able to get an accurate idea of how well these new hires teach, work, and fit in with your institutional culture. If things work out, great! Then you pray that they won't leave you in the lurch when something better comes along.  If it doesn't work out not only do you have to start the search again (which is time and energy consuming), you may have issues with your learners; it may have been the case that these new hires were awful and as such did a major disservice to your learners. This is something that needs mending, both from a content perspective and a human relations perspective.  Again, this takes time and effort.  Yes, I hear some of you say that this is also the case with tenure stream faculty.  This is true! It's true for all new hires. There is a period of  trial-and-error, acclimation, and kicking the tires that happens, both by the new hire's side and the department's side. However, once a new hire passes their 4th year review and they are reasonably certain of tenure, that's basically it, you don't generally need to worry that you are going to lose them and you need to start your search all over again. Not so the case with adjuncts. Commitment is a two-way street.

Issue 4: quality of adjuncts

The issue of quality of adjuncts cuts in a number of ways.  If luck out and find someone good in your search, you'll know within a semester or two if they pass the muster (and they will know if they are a good fit for your department). It is risky having any new hire, especially one with so much power over the learning of a group of students, as I mentioned above.  There are, however, other dimensions of quality. One of my considerations for quality is how current are people in their fields?  I generally do not like people who myopically focus on their own research as the cutting edge of what's out there in the field, but this is one of the legitimate ways of keeping current.

Many departments that I've been in contact with use one measurement for adjunct quality: course evaluations.  I am the first to say that I am not an expert in this arena since I have not studied it, but I think this is complete bunk.  As I like to say, you can have an instructor who is Mr. or Ms. Congeniality and basically bamboozle students into thinking that they have learned something relevant and worthwhile. Thus the students are more apt to give good reviews to bad instructors. Those people are then hired to continue teaching to the detriment of future learners. As an aside, I just read a story on NPR on course evaluations. Pretty interesting read - course evaluation apparently are bad measurement instruments.

Finally, just to wrap this section up, another issue I've seen is course-creep.  Someone is hired specifically to teach one course, CRS 100 for example, and then due to many, and varying reasons, they are given courses CRS 150, 200, 350, 400, 420, and 450.  The person may not really be a subject expert in these fields, and may not even have enough time to catch up on the latest developments for their own sake and the sake of their learners, but due to inadequate quality measurement instruments those people get to teach more and more courses in their respective programs.  As a side note, it seems as though accreditors might be taking notice of the increased reliance on adjunct faculty.

Issue 5:  disproportionate representation of faculty by teaching more courses, and issues of diversity

So, we've come to a point in our discussion (with my instructional design colleague) where the suggestion is to just create additional sections for the instructors that have proven themselves over the years.  First this assumes that the people we hire can teach additional courses for us. This, generally speaking, is not usually the case.  The people who teach for us have day-jobs. They are professors at their own institutions and they have responsibilities to their own home departments.  Adding more courses to their teaching roster simply isn't feasible from a logistics point of view.   Even if it were possible, departments don't grow by simply hiring more of the same.  The way organizations grow is through diversification. New faculty hires would be able, surely, to teach some intro level courses in our program, however they would bring in their own expertise.  This expertise would allow the department to create additional tracks of study, offer different electives, provide seminar series for diverse interests to current students and alumni.  The more of the same approach may work short term, however it's not a great long term strategy.

Still, some departments do expand someone's course-load to include more courses.  As we saw in issue #4, this is an issue of quality.  It is also an issue of lack of diversity and disproportionate representation of one faculty member.  I would feel very odd if I were teaching and students were doing 1/4, or /3, or 1/2 of their courses with me because it was compulsory.  If students really opted to take more courses with me, then more power to them, they've made an informed decision.  However, if courses are required and students only have 1 faculty member to choose from, then that is bad for them in the long run because they don't get a diversity of views, opinions, expertise, and diverse know-how from the field (if the adjuncts are from a more practical background).

Issue 6: research of Tenure stream faculty

Now, as I wrote above, I really don't like it when faculty drone on and on about their research, and their research agenda, and look for ways to get out of teaching. Being a faculty member is often compared to being a three-legged stool: teaching, research, and service. You can't extend one leg, shorten another and expect to have balance.  If you wish to be a researcher then by all means, quit your academia job and go find a research-only job.  That said, research, and being up-to-date, is important.  For me it connects with a measurement of quality. Adjuncts are only hired, and paid for, teaching.  Since there is no research requirement in their jobs research and continuous quality improvement may not be something that they undertake. This is bad not only for the students, but also for the department.  One of the ways that we are able to attract students to our respective programs is through name-brand recognition.  In a recent open house my department had published books by our faculty.  Several students commented on the fact that we had that Donaldo Macedo who worked with the Paulo Freire in our department. Yes, we have that Charles Meyer, who's a pioneer in corpus linguistics. These are just two examples, but it gets people to pay attention to you.  Even with my own studies, one of the reasons I chose Athabasca was the fact that I had read work by Fahy, Anderson, Dron, Ally, and Siemens. I was familiar with the CoI framework and the work done on that, and I am a reader of IRRODL.  The fact that AU is the place where all these things are happening was a catalyst for me to apply and attend. All of this stuff comes directly from the research work and public outreach of the full time faculty of this institution. Adding more adjuncts to the payroll doesn't get you this in the long term. Again, you invest in your faculty and your get paid back with dividends!


To wrap this up, in this big organization that we all work in, we all have many different jobs, little communication, and no one has a big picture. I consider myself lucky. Having worked as a media technician, a library systems person, a library reference and training person, an instructional designer, as an adjunct faculty member, and now a program manager, I've seen all of the different levels of what's going on in academia.  I have a more complete picture, much more so than any of my colleagues who are in the same job/career path. The upper administration is still a bit of a mystery to me, but I guess I still have room to grow. I am grateful that friends and colleagues want to help out with growing our program, but without having all of the information, I am afraid that "changing the model" is simply code for do it quicker and cheaper and churn out more students.  Students need mentors, advisors, and role models. The adjuncts we've had teaching for us for the past 3 years (or more) are great and do, unofficially, provide that out our learners. However, you can't grow a program on adjuncts. What it comes down, for me, is recognizing the humanity of adjuncts, compensating them well, getting them into the fold as valuable contributors to the department, and investing long-term in programs.  Figure out what you need tenure stream people for, what you need Lecturers for (adjuncts with long-term contracts) and work strategically. Semester-to-semester, and adjunct majority, is not the way forward.

Your thoughts?