Monthly Archives: August 2015

6 Recommendations for Nurturing and Including Adjunct Faculty in our Communities

shutterstock_210979459 (2)An on-campus community must include faculty, students, staff and administrators, but ‘faculty’ may not wholeheartedly include adjunct faculty. I have been working as a non-tenure-track part-time faculty member, or an adjunct, since fall of 2011. For me and many others a variety of courses are in my normal rotation; Anatomy and Physiology, Human Biology, General Biology, Nutrition, Medical Terminology and Genetics. I currently teach at five Bay Area community colleges, usually 3-4 concurrently. We adjuncts are hired for content knowledge and are comfortable with the subject matter, but most lack formal training in teaching/education. While not all individuals that accept a short-term teaching contract desire a long-term college teaching career, this post focuses on those who, like myself, have made part-time teaching into a full-time job. This drives me to seek professional development (PD) opportunities to maximize my efficacy, improve the classroom experience and student success, as well as make meaningful contributions to my department(s) and college(s).

In recent months, the ‘plight of the adjunct’ has been sensationalized in the media, February 2015 saw the first National Adjunct Walkout Day approach and pass, leaving the public, students, faculty and parents concerned about the quality and working conditions of ‘the new majority;’ the growing faction of adjunct faculty who have become essential in educating the next generation nationwide2.

I (and many of my biology colleagues) feel fortunate to teach a variety of in-demand courses for pre-professional or allied health students; and have yet to encounter a shortage of available work, however we often struggle to fit together our various contracts into an operational schedule. Rather than a shortage of contracts, I found that there appears, at least to many adjuncts, to be a shortage of opportunities to participate in a campus community. As an elected adjunct faculty representative for my local Academic Senate, I have worked to communicate with my constituents and find ways to improve the opportunities for adjuncts on several campuses. One difficulty we face is the scheduling of committee meetings, workgroups and professional development seminars, which frequently conflict with teaching contracts, meetings or workshops at other colleges, especially leading up to a new semester.

As The Higher Learning Commission described the value and necessity of professional development for adjuncts in a recent article, (which I would encourage anyone involved in planning or facilitating professional development to read), especially when considering the needs, interests and desires of adjunct faculty. The article outlines six areas that should be considered when planning PD and building a community that includes adjunct faculty. I largely agree with these and would like to offer some additional suggestions based my own experiences, which can hopefully be used at other colleges.

6 Suggestions for Building a Community that Includes Adjunct Faculty

 1. Offer professional development in series

Many adjuncts struggle when developing activities and authentic assessments, both tasks which become exponentially harder when teaching several different classes at several schools, using different textbooks, on an unpredictably rotating basis. Although I do not have personal experience with the tenure process, and am certain that it varies between colleges, I hear that the tenure process often consists of weekly meetings with a tenure committee, peer-mentoring, frequent classroom evaluations with feedback and other processes that help the newly hired faculty flourish as a member of the community. I have yet to find a similar process that allows new adjuncts who desire a long-term teaching career to similarly improve, but feel that any effort put into this at a college would provide boundless benefits to the faculty, departments, students and college.

2. Enlist full-time faculty and staff members to facilitate professional development sessions

This is one that I think needs to be revised, as I strongly believe that adjuncts should also be included in the planning processes, to ensure that the next point #3 is being satisfied.

3. Offer relevant topics that include institutional policies and procedures as well as pedagogical best practices

In order to help adjunct faculty (many of whom have little formal pedagogical training), workshops should focus on helping faculty learn via interactive workshops and classroom simulations active and experiential methods such as collaborative assignments and high-impact practices, especially those that focus on building student critical thinking skills and active learning. Anyone planning and scheduling PD workshops must consider the level of training that many adjuncts bring to the classroom. I have heard many adjuncts lament what they could have done with the morning rather than attend a PD session that did not provide tangible strategies to enhance student learning. For many, it feels like a waste of precious time to attend an unpaid session, and may deter them from future attendance. This brings us to the next point.

4. Provide stipends to adjuncts that complete workshop series

Even if not for a series, stipends wherever possible for adjuncts completing workshops or work outside of the classroom should be considered. In my experience, equity funds and other special sources of money may be used. In addition to on campus work, adjunct faculty should also be supported in terms of being able to attend outside seminars, the majority of the off-campus PD I have been involved in was made possible through scholarship or grant opportunities that I sought on my own. Often, it is very difficult for us to get a substitute, while the lost wages, cost of travel and the workshop make out of state seminars cost prohibitive for many part-timers who are not eligible for reimbursement or leave pay.

5. Provide coffee and tea at every session; provide light meals where appropriate


6. Employ a visible hands-on approach to community building

A major area where we adjunct faculty could be better supported is in our involvement on campus outside of teaching (e.g., committee work or new course or curricula development). I have found that at some campuses we are allowed to attend such meetings, but are unaware of when the meetings are scheduled, discouraged from ‘working for free’ or are told that we are not eligible to actually serve on a specific committee. Being clear about eligibility criteria, holding regular meeting times and keeping websites with agendas or action items up-to-date are essential. For many adjunct faculty and their colleges, a major challenge is to raise awareness, disseminate information and gather participants and contributors.

With these challenges in mind, I believe the LifeSciTRC is a great resource to facilitate the expansion of on and off-campus resources and opportunities for faculty to share high-impact practices, activities and assessments related to specific content areas or learning outcomes. Lastly when it comes to upcoming professional development, funding opportunities or seminars, please do not hesitate to invite us personally with an email or even a note in our mailbox because it is difficult to keep up with 5 institutional email accounts.


Roseann Berg is an adjunct faculty member at 5 Bay Area community colleges, teaching a variety of Biology classes. She received her B.S. in General Biology from the University of Washington, and her Doctorate of Chiropractic from Palmer College of Chiropractic West, in San Jose, CA. She is involved on campus in her third year as a Student Learning Outcomes and Assessment Co-Coordinator at Foothill College, an Academic Senate representative, and a GE curriculum reviewer. At Mission College, she participates in a Reading Apprenticeship Faculty Inquiry Group, and helped plan and carry out a pilot study on the effects of Reading Apprenticeship in the classroom on student engagement across several disciplines.


Teaching study skills and physiology at the same time

casual intelligent student with a notepad and an apple on her head - isolated over a white background

What is one of the best ways to help your students learn science?  Help them learn how to study!

You may have noticed that your job as a professor seems to go much more smoothly and students do better when most of your students are well-versed in study skills.  Students might even seem to like you more, think you are a better teacher, or write more positive comments on your evaluations!  But unfortunately, many college students begin college without the study skills needed to do well [1].  And knowing how to study helps students perform better [2].  How often do we as teachers think about this?

Having Students Think about their Study Skills

Through several methods, we can empower students for success by helping them learn how to study at the same time that we are helping them learn physiology.  I spend a good amount of time on the first day of class showing data about the importance of good study habits and sharing a brief overview of successful study methods [3], [4].  A good reinforcement of this is to have students think about how they study now.  By completing an online study skills assessment that gives feedback [5], [6], students can see what they do and do not do in their study practices.  A good follow-up to this would be to have students write a reflection on their assessment results, perhaps including two or three things they want to improve upon.  This “assignment” can reinforce your message of how important the approach to learning is in successfully mastering new material.

Active Learning with Study Tools

There is an array of proven active learning methods [7] that many of us use.  I like to use these not only to increase engagement, but also as a way to model study practices.  One approach I frequently turn to is to simply take one or two learning objectives, and ask the students to work in small groups to create a mini-essay or a concept map [8] to explain the objectives.  For example, I do this to help students understand the functions of and relationships between the cells, processes, and molecules involved in the innate and adaptive immune responses.  I remind them that if they find this kind of activity helpful, they should make more concept maps or essays for the rest of the objectives.  Some students will even email me the maps they make in their study practice for feedback.  Or even better, it also creates a great chance to suggest to meet in office hours to go over the map together instead!  This can be a sneaky way to target students that want more help, but are not quite ready to ask, or do not know what specifically to ask for help with.

Another idea is to have students create a diagram or drawing of a process, based on written information or vice-versa.  For example, many of my students struggle to understand filtration and re-absorption in the kidney at a cellular/molecular level.  I tell them to create a diagram of the nephron and draw the proteins and molecules needed for the re-absorption of sodium, glucose, etc., show the direction of movement, indicate active and passive transport, and so on.  Many times, I divide the class into four groups, and each group diagrams one part of the nephron.  Sometimes, we then create a large diagram on the chalkboard together – but other times it is better not to “give out the answer”.  Since students tell me that they really only understand the part their group worked on, I remind them that during their own time, they should do the same for each of the other parts, again, something we can go over together later on if they wish.  A lot of what we do in active learning is also building study skills, but students may not realize it, and may only see these as assignments and not general tools unless we make that clear.

Suggestions for Studying Outside of the Classroom

I have found that some students take advantage of optional study tools that I make available by posting them online.  In lower-level courses where I may have a large proportion of students that are not used to spending time studying and do not know what to do in order to study, I try to have some kind of study tool posted for each chapter we cover.  For those students that struggle in the class and come to me for general help, I have them start with these.  Again, it opens up a great opportunity for us to meet regularly in office hours, because we can go over the study tools together.  To reinforce the utility of this to the entire class, I assign only a handful of these for homework, or as in-class, solo or group assignments during the semester.  These study tools are usually review matrices, concept maps, annotations of a blank diagram, completion of a key points outline, and the like.

Observed Benefits

Hopefully, these techniques have helped some students to improve their performance, engagement, and study practices in general, but I have not done a study to test this.  However, I found an unexpected benefit for at least some students.  A couple of comments from students were that they appreciated that I wanted them to succeed not only in this course but in general, and that they were glad to learn how important study skills are to succeeding in their courses.  I believe that by helping students learn how to study, we are not giving them a fish, but teaching them how to fish.


[1]        G. D. Kuh, “What Student Engagement Data Tell Us about College Readiness,” Peer Review, vol. 9, no. 1, 2007.
[2]        K. F. Stanger-Hall, F. W. Shockley, and R. E. Wilson, “Teaching Students How to Study: A Workshop on Information Processing and Self-Testing Helps Students Learn,” CBE-Life Sci. Educ., vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 187–198, Jun. 2011.
[3]        “LSU Center for Academic Success.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 30-Jul-2015].
[4]        A. Wolkowitz, Learning Strategies: Your Guide to Classroom and Test-Taking Success, 1st ed. Overland Park, KS: Assessment Technologies Institute, 2009.
[5]        “Columbia Basin College : Study Skills Assessment.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 29-Jul-2015].
[6]        “Which Study Habits Can You Improve?” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 29-Jul-2015].
[7]        J. Handelsman, D. Ebert-May, R. Beichner, P. Bruns, A. Chang, R. DeHaan, J. Gentile, S. Lauffer, J. Stewart, S. M. Tilghman, and W. B. Wood, “Scientific Teaching,” Science, vol. 304, no. 5670, pp. 521–522, Apr. 2004.
[8]        K. Henige, “Use of concept mapping in an undergraduate introductory exercise physiology course,” Adv. Physiol. Educ., vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 197–206, Sep. 2012.



Sydella A. Blatch is an animal physiologist. She studied zoology as an undergraduate and earned her PhD studying the nutritional physiology of insects from Arizona State University. Her postdoctoral fellowship was at the National Institutes of Health, in the molecular biology of mouse epigenetics at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. She is now an Assistant Professor of Biology at Stevenson University, a primarily undergraduate university located near Baltimore, MD. She teaches courses in plant and animal form and function, and animal and human physiology. Her research interests are in understanding the relationships between microbes and B-vitamin production in, and the effects of this interaction on fruit flies. She has been awarded five awards for efforts in community building and diversity, gives professional development seminars on teaching-based professorships, and is a Physiology Education Community of Practice fellow.


Adjusting to New Pedagogies – Agh!

upsetTo be honest, writing this blog is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Oh, it’s not the thought processing, organizing or the writing; it’s the knowledge that it will be read by so many experts in the field of physiology education. I am so grateful to the American Physiology Society Teaching Section for the opportunity to be a PECOP fellow because it has opened my eyes to a way of teaching I knew nothing about. Although I still count myself young, I came out of college and graduate school having been taught by the Socratic method in my lecture classes and knew nothing of alternative ways of learning. When I started teaching undergraduates full-time, I did what was familiar. I taught how I was taught and how I learn best. I quickly became frustrated by the looks of boredom or the statements “well I could read that in the textbook myself so why do we need professors anyway?”. Something needed to change.

I applied for the PECOP fellowship and was accepted to the first APS Institute on Teaching and Learning. It was an eye-opening experience. I did what I do best and took pages upon pages of notes soaking up as much information as I could about case-based learning, flipped classrooms, problem-based learning, open-inquiry labs and clickers. I came away with more than new pedagogical terminology, I had new ideas for how to “fix” my classroom. I was overwhelmed to say the least. I wanted to do everything to all of my classes starting from day one. The desire to do everything quickly led to panic. How could I do this? How could I get all of the content in? Wouldn’t the students suffer on their MCATs? I only have a month more of summer to get this all planned!

Then I remembered one of the most important statements of the workshop from Jenny McFarland. She said “take it one step at a time, most of us have spent our careers refining our classrooms”. So I did. I decided to change one class. I picked my smallest class with more advanced students to be my guinea pigs. Instead of traditional lecture on advanced physiology topics, we developed a journal club class. It was entirely literature-based (not all primary, but at least one was required in each lesson) and student-led. The students were apprehensive at first and so was I. I decided to ease them in by doing the first lesson. I covered stress, emotions, and CV risk using the papers by Walter Cannon from “Using Classical Papers to Teach Physiology” in Advances in Physiology Education. I chose three papers and wrote some pre-class questions to refresh their memories on stress and the cardiovascular system (these students had taken both A&P I and II). One of the most telling comments I received from a student prior to the first lesson was “I don’t know how we will fill up two hours just talking about these papers”. To organize a whole class around literature was a unique experience for them. The same student said to me at the end of course “I don’t know how we can get through all these papers in two hours”.  The students became critical readers examining literature in a way they never had before. The end of course comments were overwhelmingly positive and I was encouraged. Maybe I can change the way I teach, but for me it is best done one step at a time.
Jan Foster

Jan Foster is an assistant professor of Biology at North Greenville University in Tigerville, SC. She received her PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the Medical College of Georgia. She teaches human anatomy and physiology, human biology, advanced physiology and histology. Her research focuses on using the soil nematode, C.elegans, as a whole organism model of assessing oxidative stress responses. She is also currently working to implement digital resource and student-centered learning approaches in her teaching.