Recruiting, Orienting, and Supporting Online Faculty at Public Universities

Last updated on: January 24, 2022

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The number of online programs and online students at colleges and universities across the country continues to grow. As a result, finding, training, and supporting faculty members to effectively teach in the online environment has become a major challenge for higher education institutions. This infographic is based on the study “Online Learning at Public Universities: Recruiting, Orienting, and Supporting Online Faculty,” which surveyed member institutions of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) about their current practices in this area.

Click the image below to view the full infographic.

Each university faces unique challenges as they work to recruit, train, and support online faculty. To strengthen their efforts, the Online Learning at Public Universities report shares recommendations for preparing instructors to lead digital classrooms. Below, we explore the significant role that adjuncts serve in this space and review ways to help instructors deliver quality learning experiences.

Online Faculty Recruitment and the Reliance on Adjuncts

This study found that nearly 40% of AASCU universities offer courses online or in a blended format. Though most full-time faculty teach online courses as part of their regular workload, one-third of institutions rely on adjuncts for their distance learning programs. Adjunct recruitment usually falls under the responsibilities of individual departments or colleges, and this process:

  • Foregoes an initial human resources screening at most institutions.
  • Predominately relies on an institution’s website and word-of-mouth channels to identify candidates.
  • Rarely requires candidates to provide teaching or writing samples.

The latter is interesting, as acquiring work samples brings additional insights into the hiring process. That said, ensuring adjuncts perform at a high level requires more than an updated approach to talent acquisition. Institutions must also provide these instructors with the same training and resources as full-time faculty. This approach sets up benefits beyond consistent course quality—adjunct faculty may feel more invested in the university, which could boost retention.

Training and Orienting Online Faculty

This study found institutions rarely require professors to attend training for online instruction beyond technology. LMS use is the leading mandatory training, and schools provide it in self-paced (45%) and instructor-led (37%) formats. It is less common for schools to require training covering academic and online student policies, course design, or effective online teaching methods.

Some faculty members have contracts that allow them to opt out of training. However, universities can navigate this barrier by offering incentives for instructors to join optional professional development courses. These incentives are especially beneficial for instructors who are about to lead their first online courses.

Faculty members who want to further their knowledge of online instruction can visit the Center for Teaching and Learning. This resource center shares best practices for bolstering the design, delivery, and management of online courses.

University Support for Online Faculty

Feedback about online faculty performance varies considerably among surveyed universities. While 90% of institutions collect input from students at least once a term, most institutions consult other sources less often. For instance, supervisors evaluate online faculty only once per year at 70% of universities, and 60% never perform peer evaluations.

Insufficient evaluation processes can hinder the professional development of online faculty. By providing regular feedback from a range of sources, universities can help faculty continuously improve their performance as they adopt best practices for online instruction.

Despite varying approaches to faculty evaluation, universities consistently supply support services to instructors. Most of these services relate to LMS use, instructional design, and instructions for online pedagogy.

However, a common challenge for online faculty is accessing a 24-hour help desk, as about one in four institutions do not offer this service. Maintaining a 24-hour help desk throughout the academic year is essential, especially for instructors who are new to this format. Without this support, faculty may face issues they cannot correct, which then reduces course quality for students.

Tailoring These Insights to Overcome Unique Challenges

An overarching theme of this study is that universities take differing approaches to recruiting online faculty. Furthermore, the support that online instructors receive appears to vary considerably between institutions. This variance could stem from an institution’s unique budget limitations or resource challenges. As a result, universities should consider their specific circumstances as they adopt these recommendations.

Launch the infographic to take a closer look at online faculty training and support practices. Plus, explore our resources for additional insights about engaging online learners, including how to improve instruction through metacognitive learning.

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