WCET, Learning House Find Online Adjunct Support Varies


The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) and The Learning House, Inc. have presented results from a study titled “Recruiting, Orienting, and Supporting Online Adjunct Faculty – A Survey of Practices” that offers insight into hiring and expectations, policies, and support of adjunct and part-time faculty members for online courses.

The survey of more than 200 deans, directors, and provosts at two- and four-year institutions of higher education found that some adjunct faculty members receive weeks of training before teaching their first online class while other adjunct faculty members begin teaching with no training and no academic support.

Results of the study found that policies affecting on-campus adjunct faculty were often applied to those adjuncts who are teaching online. Few institutions have written policies for how often staff members are expected to interact with their online students and respond to student inquiries, or how often they are told to hold office hours.

“Adjunct faculty members have played a key role in enabling the rapid growth of online learning programs over the last ten years,” said Dr. David Clinefelter, Learning House’s Chief Academic Officer. “What these findings show us, however, is that despite a recognition of the importance of online adjunct faculty, many in higher education still struggle with how to orient and support this group. This survey provides a baseline of understanding that can hopefully help institutions in their recruiting and utilization of this important segment within higher education.”

The principal findings of the report included the fact that high levels of technical and instructional design support for adjunct faculty are in place, but professional development and training was varied widely. Also, online adjunct faculty is often given full responsibility for devising and customizing their courses.

Institutions are divided over whether auxiliary faculty members should use a “master course” (developed by the school) or “full development/customization” (the faculty member develops the curriculum) for online courses taught by these instructors.

Roger Poulin, director of policy and analysis for WCET, said that a quality online education is entirely possible, but it is a different process than with a traditional institution. Recent large-scale research on the retention rates for long-distance education found that the proper systems for recruiting, orienting, and supporting these instructors make for greater success for students.

The report also created a checklist of suggestions for institutions that are working to make the best use of adjunct faculty for online teaching.

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WCET) is a leader in the practice, policy, and advocacy of technology-enhanced learning in higher education. Members include over 350 institutions, state higher education agencies, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and corporations in almost every US state, along with many Canadian provinces.

The Commission is a source for policy analysis, advocacy, and expertise in supporting learning technologies for institutional and student success. Learning House has over 100 colleges and universities as partners and offers over 250 online degree programs and eight services that allow students to avail themselves of Learning House’s offerings whenever and wherever they need it.