Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Teaching Advice for New Adjunct Faculty

Do you have years of experience in your chosen field and feel as though you are ready to try something new?  Many professionals decide to become adjunct faculty as that "something new."

However, few to none of those professionals have any pedagogical or andragogical training, other than the observations and experiences they may have made when they were in school.  This is a great starting point, luckily!  Let's go over a few of those teacherly-things you may have observed or experienced when you were in school, but this time let's look at them as teachers.

Writing a Comprehensive Syllabus

The key to a great syllabus is its comprehensive details
The course syllabus is often thought of as a contract between the faculty member and each student. Other ways to think of the syllabus is as a business plan or a project management timeline.  Just as with any of these types of documents, it's best to be as thorough as possible in the syllabus, never cutting corners or assuming that other parties (in this case your students) already know any of the plan.

First and foremost, be sure to ask if you are allowed the academic freedom to write your own syllabus or if a syllabus or outline will be provided.  You can probably set a meeting with your Department Chair or a Lead Faculty member if you need help.

If you are allowed to create your own syllabus, be sure to include all basic course information in the syllabus with headings and subheadings, bullet points or numbered lists, and tables.  Include the name and course number with the course description, meeting times and a detailed schedule, your contact information and textbook information, grading policies and assignments, and class policies and procedures cobbled together from the student handbook and catalog, and include any personal preferences that also abide by the handbook and catalog.  You can also choose to include the course learning outcomes or objectives, the rubrics, and a statement about the value or relevancy of the course.

Planning Lectures & Planning Lessons

Once class starts, you will be responsible for delivering lectures and conducting lessons.  Keep in mind that these are two different things.

A lecture is an organized and well-planned talk, a speech or presentation, that addresses yet goes beyond content from the textbook.  A lecture is never just a chapter presentation delivered on PowerPoint slides.  As an expert in your field, you should be prepared to deliver "above and beyond" content, which can include examples, supplemental readings, research information, or narratives and description.  It may take several hours or even multiple days to properly research and outline the lectures for your first class.  The length of the lectures will depend on the format and length of your class.  In subsequent semesters you can revise and add to your lectures.

On the other hand, a lesson is a series of learning activities that lead to the same learning outcomes or objectives, like a lesson that teaches students how to identify different types of bacteria using a microscope.  For example, that lesson may include a very brief overview or complete lecture, a reading, a video, a short vocabulary quiz or list of vocabulary terms, homework, an in-class bridging exercise (a lab), a group project or paper, or a whole host of other effective activities. Lessons should be as carefully planned as lectures, with a clear goal in mind and with clear instructions prepared for the students.

Creating Assessments to Measure Student Learning

The way you will know whether or not students are learning the content or skills introduced in your course is to assess their learning.  You can assess student learning using quizzes, tests, exams, papers, discussions, presentations, projects, in-class work, and homework.  In other words, you will assess their ability to complete tasks.  You will assess their proficiency in those tasks against a standard. Those standards come in the form of learning outcomes and rubrics. Just as with the syllabus, sometimes those will be created by you, and sometimes those will be provided.  Again, be sure to ask.

To continue the example from the lesson in the previous paragraph, one of the learning objectives could be written: "Students will correctly identify 10 types of bacteria."  This first objective could be assessed during a lab or on a visual quiz, with 8 to 10 correct answers being a passing proficiency grade.  A second objective that moves students to a higher level of understanding could be stated: "Students will compare and contrast the effects of 10 types of bacterial infections."  
The second might be assessed in a final presentation or a term paper and graded using a detailed rubric.

As time goes on and you analyze the results of your assessments, you can adjust your lectures, lessons, schedule, grading weights, rubrics, and assignment instructions to better teach the content.

Being an adjunct instructor can be an extremely fulfilling position.  However, new adjunct faculty members should enter the profession with enough knowledge to help their students be as successful as possible.  If you are a new faculty member, you should focus on creating a thorough syllabus, carefully planning lessons and lectures, and assessing student learning in a way that helps you continuously improve your course.

Want to read more about teaching?  Try

The Benefit of Play in the Composition Classroom
Gamification: Using GameMaker: Studio to Make an Educational Game
Student Centered or Curriculum Centered?

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.

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