Helping Hands are Teachers' Workshop

I don't have to do it all myself! Technology enables me to get help with my teaching from professorial colleagues, former students, college alumni, students at other universities, foreign journalists, parents and spouses, community leaders, and people with "real" jobs off campus. Call it "collaborative teaching" or "the use of adjunct instructors" or "getting others to do my job." It's working for me and my students!
There are many ways to gain from extra minds and hands. To enrich content, a professorial colleague might speak to her specialty or a library consultant might be the class’s bibliographic consultant. To build interest through controversy, students could be put in touch with an expert who disagrees with the conventional wisdom.
Or, you might prefer to reinforce your credibility by involving a second confirming opinion from a highly credentialed expert. For example, students often invest greater confidence in opinions coming from practitioners who are "meeting a payroll in the real world." In any case, the contrasting pace provided by an occasional guest lecturer adds interest and variety to a course.
It seems there is never enough time. Your main motive for using adjuncts may be to lessen your own time commitment or to save student time by making study more efficient and convenient. A former student or alum may be able to give caring time and attention to a small group of students, the type of attention that you cannot give to every member of a large class. An adjunct may bring to a relationship a skill set—for example, the use of metaphors from a hobby he has in common with a student, or experience working with learning disabled students—that allow the instruction to be customized to the interests and capacities of an individual student.
Your primary motive for involving adjuncts may be to build networks for contacts that will help graduates get first jobs and advance in their careers. Or, you may decide that the best way to publicize your activities is to get opinion leaders involved, to move your course toward celebrity status. Closely related could be the desire to cultivate opinion leaders who might give special access to your students or contribute dollars and time to your program.
A less noble but often essential need is to ask adjuncts to cover a class that would otherwise have to be cancelled because of a conflict in your own schedule.
Having determined why adjuncts are to be involved, the next step is to consider whom to involve. The key here will be to match your objectives with availability, to think about who you know who would be willing to help out. Even without paying them, I have found professorial colleagues, former students, and alums surprisingly willing.
Deciding how to involve adjuncts is the next step. My business school colleague, Gordon McCray, has shifted his basic lectures to cyberspace so that class time may be freed for guest lecturers. My English department colleague, Olga Valbuena, schedules fortnightly two-way videoconferences between her class and the scholars at the Shakespearean Globe Theatre in London. Another English department colleague, Anne Boyle, has her students exchange comments on their freshman essays with a comparable class at Acadia University in Canada.
Clearly, involving many hands requires time to organize and time to nurture. The returns, in both time saved and especially enhanced learning, can be immense. Let me know at brown@wfu.edu how you are using adjuncts!

About the Author

David Brown (brown@wfu.edu) is vice president and dean of the International Center for Computer Enhanced Learning at Wake Forest University.

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