Institutional Research Conference

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I recently attended the North East Association for Institutional Research (NEAIR) conference in Saratoga Springs, NY.  I wanted to share some thoughts, based on the presentations I attended. 

One overarching theme was the impact of the rising use of adjunct faculty teaching courses.  Many institutions have data showing how many courses adjunct teach, salary comparisons and hiring trends, but very little work has been done focusing on what impact this has on student learning outcomes.  Very hot topic now, and could use a lot of research around this to better understanding the complexities of the situation.

Scott Jaschk, co-founder and editor for Inside Hither Ed, talked about online learning as a space begging for more research.  One item he discussed that I found interesting is the idea of "What constitutes a 3-credit online course?"  Most universities have a formula for calculating credit hours.  For instance, Penn State's Division of Undergraduate Studies defines a credit hour:

Penn State credits are awarded on a semester-hour basis. For the average student, 1 credit represents a total of at least forty hours of work in class activities and outside preparation. The distribution of time between class activities and outside preparation varies depending on the type of course. Typically, courses which involve lecture, discussion, or recitation require 12.5 classroom hours per credit. Therefore, the distribution of time is usually about one-third formal in-class instruction and two-thirds out-of-class preparation. For laboratory courses, the distribution of time is very different. For each credit, approximately 25 to 37.5 hours are spent in laboratory instruction; in addition, out-of-class preparation is required.

This definition drives a great deal of policy decisions.  Yet we do not have anything similar defining how this formula changes or applies to online learning.  How does 12.5 classroom hours per credit lend itself to online courses?  To hybrid courses?  This question should be answered with the help of research examining online learning...not by simply guess work.

These were the themes of the first 1/2 of the conference, which provides plenty to think about for now!  I'll revisit this next week, posting some notes from the second half of NEAIR. 

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I wonder if Penn State's Univ. Faculty Senate is looking at this issue?

There is certainly a lot of commentary on non-tenure line faculty and a lot of assumptions about the quality of the instruction or impacts on students' learning. But alas, not a lot of data to link the two, for good reasons. It would be difficult to conduct such research at one's own institution without a lot of concern from both administrators and faculty.

Did the NEAIR discussion include all non-tenure line faculty in the adjunct category, or was the conversation focused on part-time faculty? Different institutions have very different lables for the same kind of faculty. Some institutions consider all faculty who are not tenure-line to be adjunct, others equate the term with part-time.

Certainly, the impacts are unlikely to be equivalent over different types of "adjunct" faculty.

Even within part-time faculty are those who regularly teach as an add-on to other jobs. And some of those faculty have been doing teaching regularly for years.

The AAUP has a lot of material on the issue of decreasing numbers of tenure-line faculty. I think the higher ed part of the NEA also has material on this issue.

The presenter did have instructors broken down by tenure, adjunct, graduate/TA, instructor and a few other categories. A large percentage of the faculty fell into the "Other" category, that primarily represented non-tenure line professionals already at the university, that also teach courses. I can't remember the exact percent, but I want to say it approached 20% of instructors at (I think) Tufts university that were staff members/non-faculty working at the university that also taught.

The pure 'adjunct' category did not represent a very large population of instructors at Tufts.

Mike's group upstairs ran some basic numbers examining instructor rank and teaching hours, but nothing has been done on student outcomes tied to this. It's a charged topic, but something we could poke around with if the opportunity presents itself.

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