Book Review: Morgan, Robin K., Kimberly T. Olivares, and Jon Becker, eds. Quick Hits for Adjunct Faculty and Lecturers: Successful Strategies from Award-Winning Teachers
By Samantha Bernstein-Sierra, University of Southern California
Quick Hits for Adjunct Faculty and Lecturers (Indiana University Press), the seventh volume in the Quick Hits series, offers a strong practical foundation for good teaching through valuable insights compiled from experienced adjunct faculty and lecturers. Though intended for an audience of non-tenure track faculty, every type of faculty member can benefit from the lessons contained in this book, which are all refreshingly brief, relatable, and enjoyable.
The purpose of the book is to provide adjunct faculty and lecturers with tips and strategies, given that group’s unique challenges both inside and outside of the classroom. Historically, adjunct faculty and lecturers have been a population of teachers who receive less professional development support from their institutions than their tenure-track counterparts. The intention of the book is to address this disparity by providing tips and strategies to ensure student learning, based on a largely active, interactive, and experiential approach to teaching, and taking into account the day-to-day challenges of this particular group of teachers.
Published by the Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching (FACET) at Indiana University, edited by Robin K. Morgan, Kimberly T. Olivares, and Jon Becker, and with over fifty contributing authors, this book offers a wide range of perspectives on teaching from authors with experience as part-time and full-time adjunct faculty, lecturers, and tenured and tenure-track faculty members.
The book comprises five chapters, which are divided into brief (half-page to two-page) articles. The first chapter, Balancing Competing Demands, offers strategies for working around the limitations inherent in adjunct teaching, including lack of choice or advanced notice for the courses taught, and the logistical difficulties of working at multiple institutions. Topics range from time management to maintaining work-life balance. The second chapter, Addressing Student Issues, focuses on the best practices faculty can employ to create a supportive environment for students and promote student engagement. Topics include addressing student disabilities, attendance, and ethical issues like plagiarism. Adopting Best Practices offers examples of pedagogical strategies teachers can use to facilitate student success in the classroom, such as engaging students in course content and materials, and building student self-reflection into course design. The fourth chapter, Managing the Classroom, deals primarily with course structure, planning, and organization across a variety of disciplines, grade levels, and formats (i.e., flipped classrooms and online courses). This chapter offers the most practical, ready-to-use strategies, which are often accompanied by sample documents. The final chapter, Enhancing Professional Development, offers tips for being proactive in seeking out professional development resources, as well as ways to implement them successfully in the classroom: to “make changes thoughtfully, incrementally, and with reflection during and after” (81). Articles in this chapter discuss faculty mentoring and peer review, publishing, and leveraging adjunct positions into tenure-track jobs.
The book’s main strengths are the authors’ conversational writing styles and consistently encouraging outlook. Less like an instruction manual, the candor with which the authors write resembles a supportive discussion among colleagues. Because the most likely audience for this book is non-tenure and new faculty members, many of whom who will have less developed circles of peers than tenure-track faculty, this book offers a quick alternative to a workshop or professional teaching conference.
The casual tone of the book is also apparent in the subject matter under discussion. Many of the articles deal with issues that teachers may often encounter, but seldom discuss with peers, such as managing stress and finding mentors to consult about sensitive issues. For example, Mitchell, Carrier, and Beauchamp explain the value of mentoring in addressing the emotional reactions that accompany teaching, such as self-doubt and fears about not being liked by students: “There are few places in academia where being real about emotionally vulnerable questions is safe or wise,” but “with the right mentor(s), it is possible to … genuinely address insecurities that most all beginning instructors and adjuncts hold” (92).
The authors of this book write with an unmistakable optimism. Much of the scholarly work on adjunct faculty and lecturers in recent years emphasizes hardships—lower status, poor pay, and lack of resources (Kezar, 2004), which may lead to fleeting connections with students and poor student performance (Baldwin and Mywrwinski, 2011; Benjamin, 2003; Kezar and Maxey, 2015). What sets this book so drastically apart from the literature is its emphasis on the value of adjunct faculty and lecturers to administrations, to faculty, and to students. The book assumes the importance of this group of teachers, and instead of fixating on barriers to good teaching, presents practical and constructive ways to circumvent these barriers to improve the teaching experience for faculty and their students.
What I found most refreshing about this book is its emphasis on the student experience. Many of the authors encourage self-reflection on the part of faculty when planning course content and organization. For example, Olivares warns against using severe language in course syllabi such as “ATTENDANCE IS MANDATORY!,” and asks that faculty consider the impact of such language on students’ motivation to learn. In that same chapter, White offers strategies for encouraging classroom discussion using anonymous polling, to overcome students’ hesitancy about offering their opinions. Anonymity offers protection from scrutiny, and by showing students the results of polls in real time, this tactic allows students to visualize diversity of thought from their peers. The incorporation of the student perspective speaks volumes about where the authors’ priorities reside when it comes to teaching.
One change that would have made the book more practically useful for readers is a more streamlined article structure. Several of the authors omitted aspects of their experiences that would have made them more relatable, and thus, adoptable by an audience of teachers. For example, in a discussion about redesigning a course to conform to a constructivist pedagogy, it would be helpful to know the grade level and/or subject matter(s) of the courses in which the author found success, so that readers could make an informed decision about whether constructivism might be successful in their own courses. Similarly, several authors omitted the outcomes of particular interventions, such as any measurable student improvement, better ratings on student evaluations, or lessons learned by the author. Such information would be invaluable for readers who plan to adopt new practices in their classrooms. Further streamlining the article structure would not take away from the informal tone of the authors’ writing that made the book so enjoyable, but merely ensure that every piece contained sufficient practical information for readers to decide whether a particular strategy is right for them. An alternative to outcomes or formal results, if none are available, might include references for further reading, or speculations about the type of environment in which an idea or tactic might be successful.
In conclusion, I would recommend this book for its intended audience of adjunct faculty and lecturers, as well as all post-secondary teachers, aspiring, new, or old, tenure-track or not. Though readers will not find every article applicable to their own teaching, because of the breadth of perspectives and experiences, I believe that every type of teacher can find valuable takeaways, and very likely, new tools to apply to their own teaching.
Baldwin, R., and M. Mywrwinski, M. “Contingent Faculty as Teachers: What We Know; What We Need to Know. American Behavioral Scientist, 55.11 (2011): 15–1542. Print.
Benjamin, E., ed. Exploring the Role of Non-Tenure Track Instructional Staff in Undergraduate Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003. Print.
Kezar, A. J. “Obtaining Integrity? Reviewing and Examining the Charter between Higher Education and Society.” The Review of Higher Education, 27.4 (2004): 429–59. Print.
Kezar, A., and D. Maxey. “Adapting by Design: Creating Faculty Roles and Defining Faculty Work to Ensure an Intentional Future for Colleges and Universities.” The Delphi Project, 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.