Odessa College maintains standards of excellence that are not typically seen in other community colleges, based on a conversation with Josh Wyner (founder and executive director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program) on Wednesday 10-October-2018. Success rates of students, graduation rates over three years, and student completion rates are, per Mr. Wyner, among the highest in the nation.
Odessa College requires full-time faculty to engage in professional development activities that at minimum include 4 hours of relevant technology training, 9 hours of relevant career training, and 2 hours of personal enrichment, to ensure that learners have exemplary educational opportunities toward attaining academic success. And though part-time faculty comprise almost two-thirds of our instructional faculty, we do not currently have any requirements for professional development and participation in departmental/institutional meetings for them.
Why – We believe that all learners at Odessa College deserve exceptional learning experiences regardless of the employment status of the educator.
How – Through leveraging technology, such as Blackboard Learn (the learning management system, or LMS) and Collaborate, we will provide support and training activities for adjunct faculty
What – We will develop a network of support and professional development that will give part-time faculty opportunities to participate in professional learning communities with their peers, and professional development opportunities that will help them improve their skills and abilities.
Implementing Change… From the Heart
Learners at Odessa College deserve exceptional learning experiences. We owe this to our students. For our learners, we have implemented a number of programs that are designed to support learner needs, including Design For Completion, which pairs learners with Success Coaches and Faculty Mentors, and the Drop Rate Improvement Play, which includes the following:
- Interacting with students by name by the end of the first week
- Close monitoring of student behavior and progress with immediate intervention
- One-on-one meetings/frequent communication with students early in the semester
- “Master of Paradox”: highly structured courses with penalties for missed exams/assignments, but flexible when appropriate.
These programs ensure that our learners are supported throughout their tenure at Odessa College, with guidance and encouragement, tutoring and academic supports, and other supports to help them overcome potential barriers to success.
We spend a great deal of time with new full-time faculty to ensure that they understand these program and are prepared to implement them to provide wrap-around support for all of our learners. This, along with other programs at Odessa College help to ensure that we have drop rates of less than 4% per semester, and success rates (students completing with C or better) that is over 80%.
Full-time faculty receive training in informed practices in pedagogy. They receive training in the use of the LMS and other educational technologies. And they have opportunities to truly become part of the culture of the college and the community we serve. Odessa College also has support for faculty in the form of instructional design and educational technology, through OC Global, and training and support through the Division of Teaching and Learning. Overall, this ensure that our full-time faculty also have wrap-around support to ensure that they have the tools they need to have positive experiences in their classrooms, and that their learners also have positive experiences.
Professional development requirements and participation in departmental and institutional meetings are not imposed on part-time staff. So how can we, as a progressive college that is transforming the way that community colleges are perceived at the national level, justify that the majority of our instructional staff are not required to participate in training, and do not have a voice in organizational and departmental processes?
We know that our part-time faculty are qualified and have exceptional skills in their fields. But how can we ensure that our learners are receiving the same caliber of instruction from our part-time faculty, if the part-time faculty are not required to participate in professional development? Our students need and deserve rich educational experiences and opportunities. And the opportunities that they are experiencing should not be governed by employment status of the instructor. Our learners should not have to wonder if they might have a better experience with a different instructor.
Sense of Urgency
Based on a report provided by institutional research at Odessa College, the average drop rate of our part-time faculty for the 2017/2018 Academic Year was 12%, significantly higher than the 4% of their full-time counterparts. This report also indicates that though our full-time faculty experience success rates (students completing with C or better) averaging almost 80%, that of our part-time faculty hovers around 65%. To ensure that we are providing our learners with the quality education that they need and deserve, we need to implement a network of support and professional development for our part-time faculty immediately, and hold them to similar expectations as our full-time faculty with regard to student completion and success.
As a college that has been identified as one of the top community colleges in the state of Texas by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and one of the best community colleges in the nation by the Aspen Committee, we must act quickly to implement supports for part-time instructors. As Odessa College receives more press on the stellar performance that we have experienced, more agencies and independent organizations will be looking at our data. In order for us to maintain the exceptionally low drop rates (less than 4% annually), high success rates (over 80%), and three-year graduation rates that defy national odds (51%), we must ensure that our students are receiving quality academic opportunities. In order to ensure that our learners have quality opportunities, we must ensure that all of our faculty receive training and support.
To implement the level of network of support and development that is needed to help our part-time faculty adhere to the expectations we hold for full-time faculty, we must first ensure that our part-time faculty participate in training activities that will acculturate them to the Odessa College ways of working with and for our learners. Providing them online opportunities to learn more about the learning management system (Blackboard 101 or Bb101), and the level of course quality we expect in all of our online course shells (Quality Course Components, or QC2) will ensure that they have a basic knowledge of our LMS and the structure of our courses. This should be completed prior to their assignment to any course. As every course at Odessa College has a presence in Blackboard, with at minimum a full course syllabus and grades maintained in Grade Center even for face-to-face courses, even those who only teach face-to-face need to understand the LMS and our course structure. Other professional development opportunities, such as Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and AVID-HE (Advancement Via Individual Determination – Higher Education) will be built into orientation requirements, and delivered through the LMS. Other training and development opportunities will be offered through the LMS, live through synchronous technology, or combining both. All development experiences will include opportunities for the part-time faculty to apply their learning in their courses.
Additionally, each part-time faculty member will be paired with full-time faculty member within the same discipline, who will serve as a mentor to ensure that the part-time instructor is kept informed of dates and deadlines and to provide general support. Part time faculty will be required to participate in at least one Professional Learning Community (PLC) each term to ensure that they have a voice in the processes of their department or discipline. The mentor-mentee relationship combined with participation in PLCs and departmental meetings will help to ensure that the part-time faculty members feel connected to the department and to the institution, and will help them to understand the culture and expectations of Odessa College.
Each year, we will survey all faculty to determine their training and development needs and to ensure that they have a voice in the development of annual training plans. In addition to tracking professional development opportunities in the Odessa College app, the app allows them to suggest training that they feel they need, and even suggest to provide training opportunities for other faculty in areas that they may have expertise. The adjunct faculty members will be encouraged to maintain a portfolio that they can use to track their learning and growth, and that they can share with their mentor, the Teaching and Learning team, and their department chair.
An annual support letter will be sent to each part-time faculty member from the division of Teaching and Learning to outline annual training expectations, to provide relevant information about requirements, and to offer them information on the supports that are in place for them through the network of support and development that will be implemented. Finally, the base pay of part-time faculty must increase to $1,800 per three-hour course to ensure that we remain competitive with other Texas institutions of higher learning.
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