The recent, rapid growth of online higher education is well-documented. For example, Kiernan (August 8, 2003) mentions a U.S. Department of Education finding that there were 754,000 students enrolled in distance education for-credit courses in 1994; by 2000, that number had increased to 2,876,000. The National Center for Education reported that, as of 2002, 57% of U.S. undergraduates had taken an Internet-based course (Palloff and Pratt, 2003). This dramatic increase in enrollment has created a corresponding growth in the demand for faculty members, a demand that is increasingly being met by part-time, adjunct instructors. Grieve (2000) stated at the time of writing that 40% of college instruction was being delivered by part-time faculty, and predicted an increase in that percentage based on the growth in distance learning. As a result, higher education administrators need to know how to hire, train, and retain part-time faculty members. Feldman and Turnley (Fall, 2001) note a lack of research in this area. In response, the purpose of the study that is summarized in this article was to assist administrators by discovering and presenting reasons why prospective faculty members seek parttime, online instruction assignments and why faculty members choose to continue to be affiliated with schools once hired.
As previously stated, the changing composition of the online faculty has implications for recruitment, development and retention of teachers. The opportunity exists to create a new university faculty culture in which these strategies are an integral part of fostering instructional effectiveness and faculty co-ownership of student learning results. Three themes emerge from the literature in regard to this new culture: (a) operational definitions of university community, (b) the emerging role of virtual university faculty members, and (c) ideas about faculty engagement. Each theme is briefly discussed below.
Neff (2002) defines learning community as “a group of people who take the time to reflect on what they are doing and improve on it so that the next time they do something, they incorporate the benefits of their learning” (p. 336). Palloff and Pratt (2001) promote the importance of building networks and learning community connections within the online courseroom experience. Palloff and Pratt (2003) address the importance of establishing community interaction among online instructors and between the online instructor and learners, as well as learners’ interaction with each other.
Emerging Faculty Roles
Howell, Williams and Lindsay (2003), in a review of distance-education journals, found that faculty development is essential given the emerging role of the virtual educator and potential isolation in teaching at a distance. Boettcher and Conrad (1999) further suggest that faculty members will increasingly specialize as instructors, instructional designers, or curriculum experts. Continuous, ongoing faculty development and training will be necessary to develop and maintain faculty skills in the fast-changing environment of the virtual university.
Several writers addressed the readiness of instructors to transition from traditional classrooms to the online environment. Boettcher and Conrad (2004) suggest that this transition requires faculty “knowledge of technology tools and knowledge of the teaching and learning processes” (p. 61). According to Tomlinson (1995), many incoming faculty members have face-to-face teaching and research experience, but are not fully prepared to succeed in the online learning environment. Tomlinson recommends that faculty development and training provide ongoing support and skill development to increase faculty readiness. Mentors within the virtual university can provide support and guidance in transitioning new faculty members to the role of online instructor. In addition, a potential source of online instructors is the virtual university alumni themselves. Mentoring graduate students within the university for the role of faculty within the virtual university will assist in recruiting online faculty from the ranks of successful graduate learners.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Adjunct Faculty: “(Individuals) working part-time delivering instruction (called) either adjunct or part-time faculty. (The trend) in higher education is to assign the adjunct title to someone who returns year after year or has a continuous appoint (with or without seniority) and leave the part-time classification for individuals who teach occasionally” (Greive, 2000, pg. 37-38).
Virtual University: University that provides education through the medium of the Internet rather than in physical classrooms.
Colloquia: Face to face large group meetings at which members of the virtual university community periodically come together formally for collegial sharing and community-building.
Lifelong Learning: An ongoing attitude toward and practice of learning that takes advantage of learning opportunities at all ages and in venues in addition to schools, such as work and leisure activities.
Distance Education: “Distance education is defined … as a formal educational process in which the majority of the instruction occurs when student and instructor are not in the same place. Instruction may be synchronous or asynchronous. Distance education may employ correspondence study, or audio, video, or computer technologies” (North Central Association Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, 2000, p.1).
Part-Time Faculty: “(A term) used to describe (faculty) who teach occasionally. Other terms associated include associate faculty, guest faculty, practitioners, senior lecturer, contingent, temporary, visiting, and specialists” (Greive, 2000, pp. 37-38).
Faculty Engagement: “A faculty member’s commitment to teach with an institution(s). Factors influencing ongoing commitment and affiliation include: training, support, technical assistance, information exchange, and assessment” (Hagner, January, 2001, p.2).