© Gozo News, 2011

The use of underpaid, untrained adjunct faculty is one of higher education’s dirty little secrets, especially (but not only) in the USA. The two blog posts below discuss this issue.

Leahgrrl (2011) AdjuncTechnology – or why I can’t figure out Blackboard Connexions, November 12

Apostolos K (2011) AdjuncTechnology – or pay your adjuncts better? Multilitteratus Incognitus, November 16

We all like to brag about the rapid increase in online enrollments, but it is being achieved often on the backs of highly exploited adjuncts. Apostolos K (AK) is absolutely right in pointing out that not only is this unethical, but also damaging for students and in the long term for the institutions themselves. I suspect that the new regulations brought in by the US Department of Education for online courses don’t come near to addressing this issue (if they do, please point out where). Also, as AK says, this is not just an online education issue; it also applies to classroom instructors who also need training in using technology within the classroom.

My question though is: where are the US accreditation bodies in this?  The use of untrained adjuncts is a quality assurance issue, and if the accreditation agencies aren’t tackling such an egregious example of poor quality, why do they exist? I work occasionally as an assessor for a Canadian accreditation agency and the use of adjuncts and the training offered is one of the areas we pay particular attention to when institutions are applying to run a new online program (although once they have been approved, little is done to follow up afterwards).

Of course we know the answers to these questions. Many institutions or full-time faculty don’t see teaching in post-secondary education as a skill or profession. Anyone can do it and the cheaper the better.

Underlying Leahgrrl’s post though is another interesting question. She suggests that it is too much work to learn Blackboard (appointed just a week before the class opens), yet the whole point of learning management systems is that they are meant to make it simple and easy for faculty to move their teaching online. How much extra work will Laehgrrl be doing because she isn’t using an LMS?

In the meantime, stop asking why we have such poor use of technology in higher education. We won’t get better use until training is mandatory, and for all instructors, not just adjuncts, and since it is an essential requirement, institutions will need to pay adjuncts for training. If not the institution shouldn’t be accredited.

See also:Review of book on disasters in teaching online


  1. It is a dirty little secret. At many Australian universities 50% of teaching is done by adjuncts (sessional staff as they are called here). So much for the much vaunted nexus between research and teaching.

    Most Aus universities don’t pay their adjuncts for time spent in training. At one institution I met a sessional staff member who had literally been hired the previous week and was being expected to deliver a blended learning course with reasonable use of the university LMS for which he had no training, no idea how to use and no clue as to who to turn to for help. He was enormously stressed and turned to the IT department for help him configure his LMS site.

    It is, as you say, a disaster waiting to happen and it puts a strain on any efforts to mainstream the use of educational technology and elearning across an institution.



    • Many thanks for this, Mark.

      I should have pointed out that I don’t object in principle to the use of sessional or adjunct faculty. They are often as well qualified academically, more dedicated, and sometimes care more about students and teaching than some of the full-time faculty. What I do object to is the intolerable situations they are often put into, as you so aptly illustrated.

      My own view is that, for all the limitations of bargaining, they should be brought into the bargaining process and recognized as staff with rights, and to whom the institution as employer owes fair treatment, while at the same time recognizing that online teachers need agreements that reflect the unique nature of their work.

  2. Actually, it isn’t that it’s too much “work”; if I were, say, independently wealthy or doing teaching for pin money, I would enjoy learning Blackboard. I’ve read so much about it, pro and con, that my own experience with it would add to that pot of ideas. It’s that if I use those hours to figure it out, then those are hours that are not billable and thus decrease my income. I have to be realistic about what it takes for me to survive.

    And just a word about training: under some circumstances, if I were to attend a training on campus given by the campus IT department, I would earn some dollars per hour for those three or four hours. The college is accredited, and actually the system is better than 15 years ago when I was required to attend meetings unpaid. It’s just that learning on my own hasn’t been factored in; I would have liked, if this were to be the case, that the department have a standard “shell” set up to go with the syllabus and materials it has chosen for me to use.

  3. A few things come to mind.

    The first is that our full-time instructors who teach online aren’t trained in a mandatory way either.

    The second is that LMS training is not the same as examining ones pedagogy and figuring out how to achieve ones teaching goals online.

    And yet another is that few of us have been trained to teach anyway, regardless of format, if we are post-secondary teachers.

    Some of us figured it out. We did that by becoming part of the profession, caring about teaching, caring about reaching students and doing a good job. That’s the same motivation to becoming a good online instructor too.

    We have lots of optional training but few of our over 100 online instructors attend. I don’t think that mandatory training will make them better teachers. A community of practice might.

    LMS don’t make it easy to teach online. They make it easy to post stuff and keep records. Blackboard is huge and heavy and takes forever to learn, but it’s very good at posting stuff and keeping records, if that’s what you’re doing as teaching. I think at this point, I’d point faculty wanting to LMS without pain to try Canvas Instructure.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here