Adjuncts Who Fly Under The Radar

Writing about open education and textbooks on the day after such horror in Paris, feels a bit useless. A bit insensitive. So unbelievably futile, and I’ve been staring at this post for about an hour thinking about whether it should just live in my Drafts folder for a bit.

Then I read Maha Bali’s A Sad Look At Human Empathy, and here is my favorite part:

I have no idea what the non-passive thing to do is. None. I’ve been trying to think about this all day, in the midst of painting with my daughter and taking care of some work things and meeting new people online. And worrying. Worrying that the world is not a safe place for anyone anywhere. And wondering. Wondering what can be done to make it better. I don’t believe the answer to stop violence is violence. I have seen how violence breeds violence. But I also don’t see the violence as rational or centralized in the sense that I can’t see what action on whose part could guarantee an end to it. I can see, however, that violent responses by those in power tend to breed more violence. I just don’t have an alternative solution…

And I know that this matters because it is more shocking than other events where other lives seem not to matter as much, but should.

It’s not about me. But we all need to start somewhere. And ourselves is the first place to start.

Thanks to Maha’s post, she helped pull me out of a bit of despair and back into productive thinking on a rainy Saturday. There is really nothing I can do to help anyone anywhere near that situation in Paris, so I’ll share my thinking today and perhaps my post will do the same for somebody else.

Last night I caught up with the news via Twitter and sites on my phone as we drove from Portland, OR back to Bellingham, WA, which is about a four hour drive, and I took in the full horror of what was happening. All I could think about was how young I was when I first visited Paris at 18 years old. How something like that didn’t even cross my mind when I posed for photos by the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Louvre. How beautiful that city of lights is in my memory. How little I knew about the world then. How that trip helped me realize that I needed to travel a bit, shut my mouth, grow up, and read more books.

I am so very sorry we live a world where this kind of violence happens. How to even write when such horror exists? This may sound cliche, but I heard the voice of Edith Piaf in my mind as I read tweets and stories.

Il y a des étoiles/There are the stars
Qui sont plus belles que les bijoux/Which are more beautiful than jewels

Edith sings it way better than I ever could:

Now that I’ve sailed from the lowest depths of humanity to the highest art of Edith Piaf, I’d like to blog a bit about the conversation I witnessed this week about textbooks. I didn’t respond at the time because I was trying to focus on my new job and all of the new things I have to learn to be an effective member of my new team. Holycats, did I luck out on interesting work with amazingly cool people, y’all! More on that later.

Let me first start with some full disclosure that I have a connection in some way to some of the bloggers I am going to cite. I now work for the company that David Wiley co-founded and he’s somebody I’m very excited to get to know better. I just met Bracken Mosbacker (yay!) in real life and I’m beyond thrilled to be working on a project with him that I think fully supports a good future for online learning. Mike Caulfield is already a friend and I’m an enthusiastic supporter of his project with the federated wiki (you know this if you follow my blogs). And I have not met Phil Hill, but I follow his work, Micheal Feldstein’s e-Literate blog, and the e-Literate TV series. The ones on Middlebury College, in particular, have influenced my thinking quite a bit over the last year. I’ve cited Hill, Feldstein, Caulfield, and Wiley in papers I wrote in graduate school.

So if there is a camp, so to speak, my tent is already there and I’m toasting s’mores by the fire waiting for anyone who wants to learn more to stop by. If you have read all those posts above, you’ve got a seat next to my campfire. Bring a mug for hot cocoa!

I don’t have any data to substantiate my ideas, but I have to take up a point by GalleryP, who posted a comment on Mike’s blog because it’s been on my mind.

It’s like a rock in my shoe that I can’t find, so I have to write about it. Je suis desole.

This person posted:

And one reason students don’t always buy required course materials is instructors, often adjuncts who don’t choose – or like – the required book, tell them they don’t need to.

Sigh. Here we go again. Right. Blame the adjunct!

Who requires the book that adjuncts supposedly tell students not to buy? In my experience, it’s full-time faculty who have all of the power of decision making. A lot of times, the books are ordered before the teachers are even hired. You know, because that makes sense.

Why don’t those defiant adjuncts like the book? Probably because they’ve been hired at the very last minute and they don’t have time to fully adopt the required textbook so they make tons of handouts or post information online. Ever tried planning a class that starts on Monday, say on Friday, with a new textbook that you’ve never read before? I have, and it’s awful. Ever work for an institution that made your students buy a handbook that you did not agree with and labeled it “required” so the students had to purchase it? I have, and it’s maddening.

Why don’t students know that they should blame adjuncts for textbook costs? Probably because they are always listed as “Staff” on course schedules so they can’t Google anyone to blame. If you look at “Staff” in course catalogs, you’ll see she is a multi-disciplinarian superhero. A real ubermensch of higher education who can teach all things to everyone.

Why is there no citation of a study or data that supports this attack on adjuncts? It’s probably in the same magic land of nonexistence where my research study lives.

Here’s the difference, in my magic land, my research study supports the majority of teachers who staff our colleges rather than blaming them for a systemic problem in higher education.

My magic land of research supports faculty who are just trying to make a living in an unfair system rather than pointing out their flaws as educators.

My magic land of research honors adjunct faculty who fly under the radar because their working conditions do not support student learning. Blaming adjuncts comes from a place of privilege from the worst tenured faculty and the worst administrators.

It turns my stomach when I see adjuncts being blamed en masse, so if you are going to point the finger at adjuncts, it would be nice to substantiate that claim with at least a good anecdote if not some data.

Here’s my story that I’ve told many times: I flew under the radar when I was an adjunct because I was scared I wouldn’t get hired back if I was out of step with the policies and procedures of my institutions. I got really sick of my students not having their textbooks so I turned to open educational resources before I really understood the movement. Before I even knew there was a movement. I felt like a better teacher when I stepped away from the status quo of ordering books for my students. I stopped working for institutions that didn’t give me a choice.

Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy and I was very lucky. OER adoption was a lot of work then, and there were people working really hard against the status quo trying to make it easier for me and my students. I just didn’t know it.

Wiley writes:

…faculty also overwhelmingly agree that OER are a viable solution to the problem of textbook costs: more than 9 in 10 faculty believe that they should be assigning more OER. Now we just need to help and support them as they make that change.

If almost 80% of our faculty are adjuncts, then that 9 out 10 ratio gets a bit more interesting in terms of support for OER. Adjuncts have a lot of power here, but really, they don’t when the 20% of full-time faculty or increasingly administrators make all of the decisions about curriculum and textbooks. Some schools do not consider adjuncts “faculty” so this may be a moot point in surveys unless the data is broken into categories. Every adjunct I know understands the reality of not having enough money to make your bills, so they are usually more empathetic towards students who are trying to save money.

Caulfield makes a very good point in his post about vulgar reality of being cash strapped when students choose which textbooks to put in their bags. Why they choose to leave some on the shelf. Why they choose some books and not others. Why they choose to rent and why that may hurt them in the future. Why some are more savvy at consuming than others. His main point was about understanding the role of socio-economic cultural capital in a marketplace system. His parable about Perdiem was for those of you who can’t imagine a college student who can’t even afford a backpack much less their textbooks.

Hot tip: Those students walk through doors and log-in to OL classes at community colleges everyday.

Bracken responds in support of the teachers who assign optional texts:

Teachers may make those optional because of costs and because maybe only portions of them are relevant.

So, to me, the ideal bag is bigger than these money-centered posts are discussing.

What if students got what they actually needed, not just a subset due to costs? How many more things would teachers actually like to have students access that just aren’t practical?

I don’t see how we could deliver on the real needs without OER.

High-five, Bracken. Comments like this, folks, is exactly why I’m going to dig working with him at Lumen Learning to continuously improve teaching and learning. Hot damn!

Really, the main point of this conversation for me as a blog reader is to examine the overlap of OER adoption, adjuncts, and professional development.

Here are two points that rocked my world:

What Hill said:

I strongly feel that this type of discussion (as well as media quotes, policy, and legislation) should use the best data available, describe that data accurately, and ask for more data where there are holes.

Second, what some responders missed with Caulfield’s first post:

The chances of getting everything you need as a rental are low. Sure, you could be the super-prepared student who knows how to work the system and get them *all* as rentals — but not every student can be first in line at the bookstore.

I’ve bolded parts of their comments to show what I care most about in this conversation. What I’d talk with you about around the campfire if I could. What I’d research if I didn’t have important work to do with my new job. What I’m throwing out there just in case you’re looking for a research question.

I’d look for the holes in the data to support those students in the back of the line who are purchasing books for classes taught by “Staff.”

Here are some questions: Who are the faculty who use OER, educational technology, and alternatives to what’s “required” in order to best serve their students? Why do they fly under the radar? Why don’t they have institutional support when the data is growing that open educational resources help students?

During this week of super-awesome bloggery was yet another article about adjuncts. “Supporting Online Adjuncts” by Carl Straumsheim appeared which quoted Maria Maisto, president of the national adjunct advocacy group, New Faculty Majority,

Ultimately the survey shows that we are right to be concerned about the quality of higher education when institutions refuse to provide the majority of the instructors who provide that education with the basic support that they need, both online and in person,” Maisto wrote. “The existing system cheats both adjuncts and their students.

Sigh. I feel like I read this kind of article every six months. And if I can quote noted philosopher Yogi Berra here, it’s deja vu all over again.

Lisa Chamberlin snarks it best in a tweet:

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 12.07.17 PM

I’m not sure how we bring adjunct/casual/sessional labor/labour into the discussion of open education data, but I’ll keep posting questions and thoughts on my own questions. Bashing and blaming adjuncts is not the path forward.

We need to find the ones who fly under the radar and learn from the miracles they perform with students everyday.

So let me conclude here by thanking all of the scholars who are going to gather at OpenEd15. I look forward to reading your tweets, your blogs, your slide shares, and listening to your virtual connections. I’ll be asking: how can your work help our adjuncts and improve our community colleges? How can your work help the student at the back of line at the bookstore get her dream job some day? How? Sounds like I’m a dreamer, right?

Oui. C’est le verite. J’adore le liberté, égalité, fraternité et Vive Le France.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
This entry was posted in All The Things and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Adjuncts Who Fly Under The Radar

  1. Lisa Chamberlin says:

    Sure hope you saw my snark in the comments of that same article as well – as their solution left off any suggestion of inviting adjuncts to the table of professional development…or even the hint of paying them for their time. #sigh


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