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Is Accountability Of Online Adjunct Faculty Realistic?

Is Accountability Of Online Adjunct Faculty Realistic?
The internet allows educators to take on numerous courses across multiple departments and even institutions. More accessibility is great, but how accountable are the educators? Photo by Alegri.

The beauty of teaching online is that it can be done from anywhere, provided the faculty member has a computer and access to internet. There is an ugly side to it, too: Lack of accountability.

The economy is bad, and people need to pay their bills. Those with graduate degrees might pursue online teaching as an option, but the lack of accountability allows them to teach more classes than they can realistically manage.

I have a full-time job, and I will not teach more than one online section of First-Year Composition at a time. If I taught more than one at a time, I couldn’t provide my students with good quality, substantial feedback. I couldn’t participate in the discussion forum by asking my students questions that force them to think. I couldn’t make time for conference calls with students.

If all I did were teach online, I probably couldn’t teach more than three or four classes at a time because, again, it would be unfair to the students. There are online faculty, however, who do not hold to the same standards I do—standards that the colleges and universities who have hired them probably expect.

I know that for some subjects, it’s easier to manage more classes at a time because they’re not as writing-intensive, and therefore not as time-draining, as college writing courses. I don’t think, however, that teaching five or more courses simultaneously, regardless of subject, is a realistically manageable workload for instructors who want to perform at a high level for their students.

Because online courses are usually around 8 weeks in length, faculty members who teach five courses at a time are teaching the equivalent of a 10-course teaching load per standard 16-week semester. Ask anyone who has taught—and taught well—if this is appropriate. The answer would, or should, be a resounding, “No.”

I have known faculty who teach simultaneously at multiple colleges and universities, often teaching two or three courses at each institution. That can add up to more than five courses every 5-8 weeks, depending on the length of classes at each school. Because this is an unmanageable workload, some online faculty will designate unqualified individuals like their spouses and high school- or college-aged children to grade assignments on their behalf.

What kind of feedback are students getting if unqualified people are grading their assignments? What kind of integrity do faculty members have if they can’t honor their contracts? What kind of education are we providing our online students?

Online education is a good thing. It allows people from all backgrounds to pursue an education that previous generations did not think possible. But if we want to provide online students with a good quality education, we need faculty who are willing to facilitate it. This just isn’t possible if the online faculty are overloaded.

Students need faculty who are invested in their education, even if only for the duration of the course, because they are the faculty who will work hard to make sure their students are learning. Otherwise, online students could be paying for a diploma, not an education, and no one wants that.

Online adjuncts need accountability, but does the nature of their positions, which allows them to work from anywhere, make it possible? Is there a way to monitor how many courses someone is teaching at different schools, who is participating in the discussion forum as the faculty member, or who is grading and returning feedback to the students? I’m just not sure.

As higher education policies are created, one important aspect of online education that shouldn’t be overlooked is the accountability of online faculty. I don’t know what that might look like in the future, or even if it’s realistic, but if schools with online degree programs want to graduate properly educated students, not just students who have been “pushed through the system,” some form of accountability must be considered.

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