Engaging Adjunct Faculty with Guided Pathways

by Girija Nagaswami, Jennifer Roberts and Stephanie Scordia

Community College of Philadelphia was chosen in 2015 to be one of 30 institutions taking part in the Pathways Project. While student success had long been a priority for the College, implementing the Guided Pathways reform has heightened the focus on efforts to help students succeed. To continuously improve outcomes, all stakeholders at the College must be invested—faculty, staff and administrators

Adjunct faculty teach more than half of all students attending U.S. community colleges, frequently in students’ first collegelevel courses and developmental education courses. Here, in order for student success initiatives such as Guided Pathways to truly impact student outcomes, encouraging all of the College’s approximately 400 full-time and 635 part-time faculty to be aware and involved poses a great challenge. Most adjuncts also either teach at other institutions or hold full-time positions in their fields, leaving limited time for activities outside the classroom. To address this issue, the College applied for Achieving the Dream’s Engaging Adjunct Faculty in the Student Success Movement two-year grant, and was one of only six community colleges chosen. As colleges were asked to target areas that impact a high percentage of their students, the College designated English, Biology and Chemistry to participate. This initiative supports adjunct faculty members by creating more opportunities for them to increase their knowledge of and satisfaction with professional learning while building awareness of campus resources and policies.

“We are pleased to have been selected for this grant as it acknowledges and reinforces the College’s commitment to improving student success,” said Dr. Samuel Hirsch, Vice President for Academic and Student Success. “Increasing opportunities for faculty engagement is a critical strategy. We are fortunate to have such a high level of quality among our faculty, both full- and part-time. This grant provides resources that allow us to actively seek ways to further encourage adjunct faculty engagement.”

A team of full-time faculty, part-time faculty and administrators is collaborating to develop a series of activities that promote engagement of adjunct faculty. In order to develop the action plan for these activities, a subgroup of the team participated in the Teaching and Learning National Institute in August 2016. The team met with the other five community colleges taking part in this grant, working with these colleagues plus field experts to refine an action plan for the next two years encompassing multiple, varied professional development opportunities with Guided Pathways information interwoven.

As a key component of this initiative, Community College of Philadelphia held its first annual Adjunct Institute, a six-hour professional development experience, spread over two sessions in the Fall 2016 semester. More than 70 adjuncts from across the College attended, representing a wide range of academic disciplines and experience. The Institute covered topics such as Guided Pathways, assessment, student-centered teaching and classroom technology. Presenters included the Vice President for Academic and Student Success, the Dean of the Business and Technology division, faculty members from various disciplines and administrators from multiple units.

This Adjunct Institute sought to increase adjuncts’ knowledge of College policies and initiatives for fostering student success; to stimulate adjunct faculty to engage in discussions on best practices in the classroom, leading to improved teaching; and to increase adjunct involvement in the assessment of student learning. After the first session, participants implemented a goal concerning one of these topics. During the second session, divided into groups based on their goal’s topic, they shared experiences and discussed possible strategies for continued focus on practices supporting student success.

Spring 2017 semester activities include the kick-off of the Adjunct Support Center housed within the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning (FCTL). This new Center was established as part of the action plan related to adjunct recognition and was partially based on input from the Adjunct Institute. Working with Brian Goedde, FCTL Facilitator, the group, led by Betsy Self Ellijah, had space set aside within FCTL for use as a station providing information on Guided Pathways and other student success initiatives, adjunct benefits, job opportunities and other FAQs.

Beyond its work related to the Adjunct Institute and adjunct recognition, the team has developed plans for a workshop series. During the Spring semester three sessions are scheduled, one focusing on technology, particularly use of the Starfish technological tool the College uses to monitor and track students as part of Guided Pathways practices. Topics for the remaining sessions, and for those to come in 2017-18, may include alignment of course student learning outcomes to program learning outcomes and contextualized learning, an important component of the College’s Pathways Project.

Other projects within the grant include promoting Teaching Circles and expanding the online adjunct resource site, which has already been built by the office of Professional Development.

Materials generated at the Adjunct Institute and professional development workshops, as well as independently, will be added to the online resource site for on-demand access. Included will be workshop recordings, webinars and presentations. Teaching Circles, consisting of small groups of faculty working together on diverse issues, have been in place in the English Department since 2011. This activity both increases English adjunct faculty involvement in the Teaching Circles and explores the implementation of Teaching Circles or similar peer discussion groups in Science and other departments. Through this activity, adjunct faculty will not only enhance their involvement in departmental life, and by extension the College, but engage in critical self-reflection of their own pedagogy in a collegial, supportive atmosphere.

The Engaging Adjunct Faculty in the Student Success Movement initiative recognizes that adjunct faculty more closely connected to their colleges become more valuable to their students by accessing information about college programs and resources; data on student performance and progress; and the informal knowledge developed by full-time faculty. Feedback collected at the Adjunct Institute described how adjunct faculty judge their experience at Community College of Philadelphia as overwhelmingly positive. Increasing adjunct engagement, especially in Guided Pathways-related activities, will build on the commitment adjunct faculty have already shown in supporting students and student success.