BLOG: Harper College’s Communities of Practice Engage Faculty by Focusing on Teaching

When William Rainey Harper College, an Achieving the Dream Network college since 2009, Leader College, and the winner of the 2016 Leah Meyer Austin award, applied to participate in ATD’s initiative to engage adjunct faculty more fully in advancing student success, the college employed 700 adjunct faculty members to teach slightly more than half of its classes. Although almost a third of the adjunct faculty had retired from working full-time, slightly more than half aspired to teach full-time, and 42 percent were teaching at multiple colleges. Harper College saw in ATD’s initiative an opportunity to deepen and accelerate change that would benefit adjunct faculty, students, and the entire college community.

Planning to Create Communities of Practice

The college was selected to participate in the initiative in July 2016 and chose to focus its work under the grant on establishing communities of practice (CoPs) as a primary mode of faculty development for full-time and adjunct faculty. The concept of CoPs represented a significant departure from the college’s previous approach to faculty development, which had relied on workshops, seminars, courses and full-time faculty fellowships. To create a common vocabulary for the effort, the college used a definition of CoP that identified them as groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. The college then proceeded with plans to establish a community of practice with adjunct and full-time faculty from Liberal Arts the Math/Science divisions. In addition, the college planned to develop and implement a model that would recognize and incentivize a body of work completed by an adjunct faculty member in the areas of professional development and college service.

Two Years Later: Communities of Practice Launch and Flourish

The first CoP began to meet after attending the first annual Teaching and Learning National Institute, co-sponsored by Achieving the Dream. A small group of full-time and adjunct faculty planned the introduction of CoPs to Harper, leading with a CoP organized around the scholarship of teaching and learning. Members also received training in facilitation so they could support the expansion of CoPs.

At that point, a substantial number of adjunct faculty were engaged in CoPs and could help explain and build enthusiasm for the CoP experience with all of the college’s faculty. There was growing reason to believe that CoPs at Harper could be sustained over time, and more importantly, scaled under full-time and adjunct faculty leadership. By the end of the 2017-18 academic year, 90 adjunct and full-time faculty were engaged in 14 CoPs at Harper. Some of the topic areas addressed by the new CoPs include Universal Design for Learning, Open Educational Resources, Geospatial Information Systems, and Reflective Teaching Practices. Half of these communities included both full-time and adjunct faculty members with multiple communities comprised exclusively of adjunct faculty.

A New College Policy Rewards Adjunct Faculty Professional Development

To recognize and reward adjunct faculty who participate in sustained professional development that connects to classroom practice, as is evidenced through CoPs, Harper College and the adjunct faculty union negotiated a provision in the 2017 adjunct faculty contract that incentivizes a body of work done in the areas of faculty development and college service. Adjunct faculty now may seek to qualify for Level II status by completing a course in Reflective Practice and compiling an e-portfolio that demonstrates how their professional development experience has impacted classroom practice. Level II adjunct faculty will receive a 2.5 percent pay increase, a minimum of nine contact hours instead of six for other union members, and a guaranteed interview for any open full-time positions if the adjunct faculty member is qualified.  Thirty-one adjunct faculty have been accepted into the inaugural cohort and will submit their e-portfolios for review in early Fall so that Level II status may be determined in time for Spring 2019 course selection.

Harper’s Academy for Teaching Excellence is creating conditions for greater adjunct faculty participation by offering professional development funds to support all members in CoPs and also training for CoP facilitators.  A May 2018 presentation to the college’s Board of Trustees raised the visibility of the CoPs. The Trustees learned how CoPs were created, supported, and ways in which the work of CoPs is shared through on-campus events and digitally through the Academy for Teaching Excellence website.

More information on Harper’s Communities of Practice and the Level II Adjunct Faculty Engagement program can be found on the Academy for Teaching Excellence website.

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