Full and part-time distance education faculty.
In order to address concerns about assigning part-time faculty to teach using distance education, a study was conducted to compare full and part-time faculty who teach via the Internet in terms of student satisfaction and course completion rates. Results indicate that students who completed online courses from part-time faculty were more satisfied with their learning experience than students taught by full-time faculty in a community college distance education program. Fulltime and part-time faculty were equally effective in terms of student retention.
Faced with increasing enrollments along with declining budgets in the mid-1990s, community colleges began to rely on part-time instructors (Avakian, 1995). Numerous reports indicate that part-time faculty constitute a majority of the community college faculty workforce (Berry, 1999; Parsons, 1998). Yet, educators continue to debate the ultimate impact that use of part-time faculty has on academic quality (Banachowski, 1997; Head, 2002). Another controversial accommodation to shifting demands is the increased use of instruction delivered via the Internet.
Advocates for increasing in the numbers of adjunct faculty at community colleges cite the need for specialized and/or practicing vocational faculty in a wide range of disciplines and fields, scheduling flexibility, and lower instructional costs (Head, 2002). Others oppose reliance on part-time faculty on the grounds that only full-time faculty can provide sufficient stability and continuity with long-term commitments to their colleges (Berry, 1999; Brewster, 2000). Additionally, given their other obligations in order to make a living, part-time faculty rarely have sufficient time to spend on campus to devote to committee service, curricular development and evaluation, and student advising. National surveys indicate that full-time and part-time community college instructors differ (Freeland, 1998; Rifkin, 1998) with regard to professional attitudes: Part-time faculty report less involvement in scholarship, hold higher expectations for students, and lower commitment to maintain academic integrity than full-time faculty.
Policies regarding the use of part-time faculty tend to be restrictive based on the assumption that disadvantages outweigh advantages. For example, the California Code of Regulations, Title 5, Section 51025 (Assembly Bill 1725) mandates that 75% of all class hours in community colleges be taught by full-time faculty (Higher Education and National Affairs American Council on Education, 2002). Another example is the profile measures for the Virginia Community College System that include "Percent of Lower-Division Courses Taught by Full-time Faculty" based on the notion that "a higher percentage of courses taught by full-time faculty is assumed to be a positive indicator of academic quality" (Virginia Community College System, 2003).
Meanwhile, as the debate rages on, distance education programs must rely on use of part-time faculty due to the overwhelming student demand for online delivery of courses and the insufficient supply of qualified full-time faculty (Cho & Berge, 2002; Crosby & Schnitzer, 2003). Limited research has been conducted on part-time faculty who teach via the Internet. Although now dated, the most recent survey data from the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics (Bradburn, 1999) indicates that workload job satisfaction was higher among part-time than fulltime faculty who taught in distance education programs. To address concerns about assigning part-time faculty to teach using distance education, this study seeks to compare full and part-time faculty who teach via the Internet in terms of student satisfaction and course completion rates. This study was designed to address two major research questions: How do full-time and part-time community college faculty compare in terms of student satisfaction in distance education courses? And how do full-time and part-time community college faculty compare in terms of student course completion rates for distance education courses?
During fall 2002, a Student Feedback Survey was developed by faculty and staff, then pilot-tested with students enrolled in online courses. The courses were offered by San Diego Community College District Online (SDCCD Online) and delivered using WebCT. The instrument was revised based on results of the pilot-test. The instrument contains 32 items pertaining to students: Attendance at face-to-face Orientation session, prior experience taking online courses, completion of Online Learning Readiness Assessment, amount of time spent on course, frequency of course visits, responses to 14 "Grade Your Instructor" items (based on existing official course evaluation), responses to 7 "Information about Using WebCT" items, and 5 open-ended questions about comparison with on-campus courses, technical problems, suggestions for improving the course, appreciation about the course, and comments.
The Feedback Survey was administered to students by faculty during the last month of the Spring 2003 semester within the context of their WebCT course. SDCCD Online staff asked faculty to post the anonymous questionnaire to their fully online courses and encouraged their students to complete the questionnaire. Staff collected the survey data electronically from each course via the assessment tool in WebCT. Staff imported the questionnaire data to SPSS for analysis. Faculty status as full or part-time was determined from employee records. Course completion rates were tracked from San Diego Community College District census enrollment and grade submission data.
In spring of 2003, 3,014 students enrolled in the 77 course sections offered by SDCCD Online. Of the 77 courses offered during the spring 2003 semester, 28 were taught by part-time faculty. Students in 27 SDCCD Online course sections completed the questionnaire: 13 courses from Mesa College and 14 courses from Miramar College. A convenience sample of 510 of the 1,108 students enrolled in surveyed courses responded (46.03% response rate). Departments represented by the courses surveyed are: Accounting, Art, Administration of Justice, Biology, Chemistry, Computer and Business Technology Education, Health, Math, Multimedia, Personal Growth, and Psychology.
The independent variable is Faculty Employment Status as either full-time or part-time. Part-time status is defined as 60% or less of full-time equivalent or faculty who teach no more than 3 course sections per semester. Dependent variables are Course Completion Rate, Scores on "Grade the Instructor" statements, and Scores on "Information about Using WebCT" statements. Course Completion Rate is final course enrollment divided by enrollment at census date. Scores on the "Grade the Instructor" statements are on an ordinal scale of 1 to 4 with 1 = less than satisfactory, 2 = satisfactory, 3 = more than satisfactory, and 4 = outstanding. Intervening variables are scores on "Information about Using WebCT" statements, Attendance at Orientation for each of dependent variables, Completion of Readiness Assessment, Prior Experience Taking Online Courses, and Frequency of Course Visits. The scores on "Information about Using WebCT" statements are on an ordinal scale of 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = no opinion/neutral, 4 = agree, and 5 = strongly agree.
The significance level was set at p<.05 due to the preliminary nature of the study. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to test differences in means between full and part-time faculty for course completion rates. Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was used to test differences in means between full and part-time faculty using Orientation Attendance as the covariate for "Grade Your Instructor" items and Information about Using WebCT items. ANOVA was used to test differences in means for the recoded intervening variables on "Grade Your Instructor" items and Information about Using WebCT items. Responses for intervening variables were recoded to make them dichotomous to Yes or No for the following variables: Attendance at Orientation for Online Students session, Prior experience taking online courses, Completion of Online Learning Readiness Assessment prior to taking course. Frequency of online course visits was recoded to "At Least Daily" or "Less Than Daily." ANOVA was used to test differences in means on each dependent variable: Attendance at Orientation, Completion of Readiness Assessment, Prior Experience Taking Online Courses, and Frequency of Course Visits.
The sample includes both novice and experienced online students with 46.9% who had never taken an online course previously and 53.1% who had taken one or more online courses previously. Almost one-quarter (24.1%) of respondents remembered attending an Orientation for Online Students session. Students who reported Attendance at Orientation scored their instructors significantly higher for two "Grade Your Instructor" items: 1) "The instructor encourages students, including those who experience difficulty." (F=4.777, p=.029, n=490); 2) "The instructor corrects and comments upon the exams and/or assignments appropriately." (F=7.452, p=.007, n=498).
Almost half of respondents (43.3%) reported completing the Online Learning Readiness Assessment before taking the course. No significant difference was found on scores for "Grade Your Instructor" items or "Information about Using WebCT" items between students who completed the Online Learning Readiness Assessment and those who did not. The largest percentage of students (41%) reported visiting their courses a few times every week, 31% visited more than once every day, 23% visited a few times a week, 3% visited a few times a month, and 2% visited once a month. Of the 27 courses surveyed, 13 were taught by part-time faculty with a course completion rate of 72.7%. No significant difference was found for course completion rates between courses taught by part-time faculty and rates for courses taught by full-time faculty.
Scores for 7 of the 19 "Grade Your Instructor" items were significantly more positive among students who took their course from part-time faculty than among those who took their course from full-time faculty on the following items: 1) "The instructor treats students with respect." (F=3.09, p=.046, n=503); 2) "The instructor encourages students, including those who experience difficulty." (F=3.217, p=.041, n=490); 3) "The instructor corrects and comments upon the exams and/or assignments appropriately." (F=3.733, p-.025, n=498); 4) "The instructor writes exams and quizzes that reflect important course content." (F=3.236, p=.040, n=487); 5) "The instructor actively communicates throughout the semester with students." (F=7.072, p=.001, n=508); 6) "The instructor uses Internet resources effectively." (F=6.727, p=.001, n=504); 7) "The instructor organizes the course material well." (F=3.190, p=.042, n=505).
Scores for the following three "Use of WebCT" items were significantly more positive among students who took their course from part-time faculty than among those who took their course from full-time faculty on the following items: 1) "The syllabus accurately describes course content and requirements." (F= 3.401, p=.034, n=509); 2) "I was able to communicate effectively with fellow students in this course." (F= 8.067, p=.000, n=509); 3) "I was able to communicate effectively with my instructor in this course." (F= 3.052, p=.048, n=509).
Based on the findings, preparation for taking an online course seemed to have little impact on students' self-reported satisfaction. However, attendance at an orientation session appeared to be related to higher satisfaction with instructors' encouragement and grading. Perhaps attendance at a face-to-face orientation session gave students more realistic expectations regarding their interactions with instructors. Full-time and part-time faculty were found to be equally effective in terms of course completion in this community college distance education program. Quite possibly, other factors contribute more powerfully to course completion rates for online courses than the employment status of instructors. Future investigations should control for intervening variables such as class size and amount of instructors' experience with teaching via WebCT. Students scored part-time faculty higher than full-time faculty on several quality of the communication questions as well as course organization and use of Internet materials. This finding needs corroboration from direct assessments of faculty skills as distance educators.
This study has several limitations with regard to sampling and design. Because interpretation of course completion rates in distance education courses may differ from on-campus courses, the results of this study may not be generalizable to all distance education programs. The convenience sampling from a unique distance education program may also limit generalizability. Many of the intervening variables used in this study rely on students' self-report which may or may not reflect students' actual behaviors. Class size was not included as an intervening variable so there is no way to know if that influenced the results.
Implications For Practice
The findings from this study indicate that the role of part-time faculty in distance education warrants attention from community college administrators, full-time faculty, and researchers alike. Clearly, not all faculty are equally adept at teaching in an online environment. Part-time faculty with successful experience as online instructors can provide practical expertise and guidance to other online instructors as well as to those responsible for setting policy regarding faculty performance. If part-time faculty are going to continue to comprise a majority of online faculty, then their input should be solicited and heeded by those managing distance education programs.
At SDCCD Online, two efforts were initiated in response to the results: 1) development of policy that establishes a minimum standard of faculty competency in order for faculty to teach for the distance education program, and 2) coordination of a virtual learning community among all online faculty. Inclusion of part-time faculty on the SDCCD Online advisory board and required attendance of online students at an orientation session are also under consideration.
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Judith A. Baker, Florida Community College at Jacksonville
Judy Baker, Ph.D. is Executive Dean of the Virtual College. Her professional interest is in promoting teaching excellence using technology as a catalyst.