RIC Adjunct Faculty Explore Student Engagement Alternatives

Adjunct faculty member Carolyn Fortuna attends FCTL’s Adjunct Professional Development Day 2015

Adjunct faculty member Carolyn Fortuna attends FCTL’s Adjunct Professional Development Day 2015

“Our students are changing, and we need to change with them,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs Ron Pitt in his welcome remarks at RIC’s annual Adjunct Professional Development Day on July 15.

Some 49 adjunct faculty members attended the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning (FCTL) event, organized around the theme, “Alternatives to Lecture and Discussion.” Highlights from the six workshops included introducing collaborative learning concepts, incorporating autobiography in the classroom and using digital storytelling to help synthesize learning.

macdonald_300Bonnie MacDonald, FCTL’s director, shared with adjunct faculty members that the “really important thing [about the event] is the opportunity to talk with each other,” in order to find common ground and learn from each other. “We couldn’t manage without adjuncts,” said MacDonald, adding that RIC greatly values their commitment to teaching.

Marie F. Beardwood, an academic technologist for FCTL and adjunct faculty member in two departments on campus, led the workshop, “Strategies for the Successful Use of YouTube in Face-to-Face and Online Classes.” Since joining RIC in 2011, Beardwood has been instrumental in helping her peers change the way they teach classes.

Adjunct faculty member Carolyn Fortuna, who teaches gender studies, said that Beardwood’s trainings had helped her convert her face-to-face course into one that is now fully online. She said enrollment in her gender studies course, “Sex, Sport, and Society,” has since “increased exponentially.”

Concerning the topics discussed through this year’s workshops, Fortuna said, “I think we have to help [students] produce in the digital environment in which they are accustomed,” adding, “We’re helping them not only to learn the content but also to be able to use it in a real-world way.”

For Kathleen Siok, who teaches chemistry classes at RIC, technology is only part of the solution when it comes to the classroom. She said many of her students arrive with “a false vision of how quickly technology can help solve problems.”

The human element will always matter most, said Siok. For example, her students sometimes need to learn respect for each other and how to help one another. “They have to learn that you have to be able to examine, to think, to ask the right questions and to say ‘How good is this answer?’ and ‘How can I look further into this to make sure that I have a solid solution to this problem?’” she said. “[The answer] is not going to happen immediately like it does with cell phones.”

Adjunct faculty member Lawrence Wilson came away from the day inspired to engage his students through sharing their personal histories – and his own. Beginning a two-way dialogue, he said, is needed because “students are yearning to discover who they are.”

Beardwood said that, for her, student engagement in her classes is enhanced when she combines digital and human interactions. When she includes compelling YouTube videos into her online lessons, students do more work before the start of class, allowing her to “delve so much deeper” into the subject matter.

FCTL’s adjunct faculty program works very well, said MacDonald. “Adjuncts frequently feel disconnected from the larger community,” she added. In fact, she said RIC is one of the few schools in the region that hosts professional development and special events for adjunct faculty to “recognize how important they are to our mission.”

This story was originally published by Rhode Island College News. Reprinted with permission.