IN THIS ISSUE...
Confessions of a Recovering Adjunct Faculty Member
Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction
Confessions of a recovering
The Maricopa County Community College District reflects a nationwide trend in confronting two realities: reliance upon adjunct faculty to deliver instruction and the potential that instructional technology offers to improve learning. As a former adjunct faculty member at MCCD (1984-1997) and an advocate of building learning communities through the use of appropriate instructional technology, I believe that these twin ideas are both interrelated and essential to understanding how to better serve our students. Further, analyzing these two ideas leads to a fundamental question that will shape our learning community through the 21st century.
As a veteran adjunct faculty member, I share with those fellow faculty the feelings of marginalization, isolation, and frustration. Adjunct faculty are, whether we like to admit it or not, marginalized in our profession. They receive little recognition, low pay, frequent criticism, and some condemnation - when we think of them at all. This marginalization in turn leads to the isolation inherent in the adjunct teaching role. Just as many of our students are commuting learners who drive to campus to learn and leave, so too are some of our adjunct faculty who drive to campus to teach and leave. Who can blame them? They have full time jobs, families, and demands upon their time and they are, by definition, adjunct.
Now, having worked as an adjunct for some 13 years, I can attest that the above picture is incomplete. I serve on committees with dedicated adjunct faculty, I work on distance education issues with talented and committed adjunct faculty, and I have had the opportunity to share ideas about teaching with experienced and creative adjunct faculty. Having said this, we must wonder at our profession which has created a two-tiered structure of instruction. I wondered about this as an adjunct for over a decade and I wonder about it now as a very fortunate full-time faculty member in MCCD.
Part of that wondering or musing involves instructional technology. Many of our adjunct faculty come to MCC from the private sector where the use of technology is not considered noteworthy. To paraphrase Mark Milliron, what is the big deal about a toaster - it makes toast. What is the big deal about technology - it makes communication, collaboration, instruction, and management. So, our adjunct faculty come to our learning community often skilled in the use of the very technology we find so daunting. They are innovative in their application of this technology to instruction and bring a rich background of work experience to the classroom. So, what? What does this all mean?
To our students, I believe it means a great deal. Fifty to seventy percent of their instruction will come from adjunct faculty. In fact, the trend seems to indicate that more, not less, instruction will be delivered via adjunct faculty. As a learning community, how should we react? Posing the question in that way frames both the history of adjunct faculty and the future of adjunct instruction. We, as a community could have been proactive rather than waiting to be reactive. However, time has passed. Can we now bring our fellow faculty into the fold, break down the walls, and defuse the frustration? My training as an economist provides a rather pessimistic answer - we cannot. If workers are motivated by incentives and the market system of wages is the most powerful system of incentives, then we are doomed. The promise of technology to improve productivity, enhance learning, and bring together a community dedicated to learning - adjunct and full-time faculty, part-time and full-time students, administrators and community - will not be unfulfilled. We cannot expect adjunct faculty to continue to subsidize our vocation.
The reply to this view is that education is a vocation, a calling, not a market of labor. Educators are drawn to teaching. However, this reply is not satisfactory. Granted, our adjunct faculty, by and large, are called to this vocation and they are blessed with technology skills and work experience that can benefit our students. They do this heroically, often at great financial sacrifice. Why they do this is not the relevant question. The real question is, why do we allow this to continue?
How will the twenty-first century, a time of rapidly evolving technology, changing markets, and shifting expectations impact our vocation? Talented adjunct faculty might creatively deliver their instruction via distance. This rapidly growing segment of higher education will soon experience the same shortage of skilled labor that has impacted a number of labor markets around the world. As these shortages deepen, experienced adjunct faculty who have incorporated instructional technology into their delivery both on the web and through other distance media will find themselves not at the margin but at the center of our evolving vocation. The cybercommunity of learning that has embraced adjunct faculty will become increasingly important and the isolation experienced by adjunct faculty may well be replaced by a sense of belonging to a larger community. If markets do work, these adjunct faculty will find themselves in great demand.
Will this scenario favorably impact the future lives of all adjunct faculty? Of course not. Those adjuncts who continue to employ the more traditional tools of our vocation may continue to find themselves relegated to second-tier status. However, adjunct faculty who embrace the promise of a technologically enhanced learning experience, may find themselves at the center of a stimulating, dynamic, evolving market and perhaps finally in a position to move from the margin to the center, from isolation to incorporation, and from frustration to contentment. While I believe this possibility is one that may become increasingly available to our adjunct colleagues, it still begs the question posed earlierwhy do we allow the status quo to continue?
lab·y·rinth \'lab-u-rin(t)th\ n [ME laborintus, fr. L labyrinthus, fr. Gk labyrinthos] (14c) 1 a. : a place constructed of or full of intricate passageways and blind alleys b. : a mysterious passageway for exploring and discovering the unknown c. : a unicursal figure where it is impossible to get lost 2 : an enigma to lead us deeper into the use of new technologies for learning 3 : a publication for exploring and sharing knowledge.