There is a fascinating essay today at Inside Higher Ed giving an inside, first-person view of being an adjunct professor.
2015 is my 25th year of adjunct teaching. In the fall I will teach my 500th three-credit college course. I have put in many 14- to 16-hour days, with many 70- to 80-hour weeks. My record is 27 courses in one year, although I could not do that now.
I want to share my thoughts on adjunct teaching. I write anonymously to not jeopardize my precarious positions. How typical is my situation?
The whole essay is worth reading, as it gives a great view into what the modern university and the implications of using adjuncts. But I want to highlight one paragraph in particular that captures the challenge of understanding online education.
I have taught many online courses. We have tapped about 10 percent of the potential of online courses for teaching. But rather than exploring the untapped 90 percent, the college where I taught online wanted to standardize every course with a template designed by tech people with no input from instructors.
I want to design amazing online courses: courses so intriguing and intuitive and so easy to follow no one would ever need a tutorial. I want to design courses that got students eager to explore new things. Let me be clear, I am not talking about gimmicks and entertainment; I am talking about real learning. Is anyone interested in this?
It is naive to frame the debate over online education as solely, or primarily, an issue of faculty resistance. Yes, there are faculty members who are against online education, but one reason for this resistance is a legitimate concern for the quality of courses. What the essay reminds us is that part of the quality issue arises from structural issues from the university and not from the actual potential of well-design and well-taught online courses.
David Dickens at Google+ had an interesting comment based on the "tech people" reference that points to the other side of the same coin.
As a tech guy I can tell you, we'd love to have the time and tools to work with motivated adjuncts (or anyone else), but often times we have to put out something that will work for everyone, will scale, and will be complete and tested before the end of the week.
It is endlessly frustrating to know that there is so much more that could be done. After all, we tech folks are completely submerged in our personal lives with much more awesome tech than we can include in these sorts of "products" as we are constrained to publish them.
There is an immense difference between A) the quality of online education and B) the quality of well-designed and well-taught online education, and that is even different than C) the potential of online education. It is a mistake to conflate A), B), and C).
Update: David is on a roll while in discussion with George Station. This clarification builds on the theme of this post.
My point is that IT isn't the barrier, but rather we are the mask behind which all the real barriers like to hide. We'd love to do more but can't, and we get put in the position of taking the blows that should be directed towards the underlying issues.