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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Teaching in Context: Exploring the Factors that Influence Community College Faculty Teaching Practices

  • Author(s): Rattner, Mariette
  • Advisor(s): Halter, Christopher
  • et al.

In the current climate of accountability that characterizes public higher education in the U.S., policymakers rely heavily on institutional performance outcome measures such as retention and graduation rates for the purpose of evaluating the instructional effectiveness of colleges and universities. In recent years, criticism based on such performance outcomes has been leveled at these institutions as regards their heavy reliance on part-time adjunct faculty. Critics have argued that these outcomes show that part-time adjuncts teach less effectively than full-time permanent faculty, and therefore do not deliver value for the government funding allocated to the institutions that employ them.

Much of the existing research about the teaching effectiveness of part-time adjunct faculty relative to full-time permanent faculty, however, is characterized by inconsistent findings. Many of these studies rely on student performance and behavioral outcomes to measure instructional effectiveness. It can be argued that, in general, the outcome-oriented approach to assessing instructional effectiveness is inadequate, because it does not take into account the environmental circumstances that act as inputs to the educational process and impact faculty’s ability to teach effectively. A balanced assessment of instructional quality requires examination of these inputs, particularly the ways in which government and institutional policies and practices influence instructors’ teaching practices, as well as assessment of institutional or student performance outcomes.

This dissertation describes a mixed methods study that examines and compares the reported teaching practices of full-time and part-time community college faculty; assesses the degree to which these practices align with or diverge from the principles associated with the Chickering and Gamson (1987) Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education construct; and employs the Bronfenbrenner (1986) Ecological Model as a framework for exploring how the environmental factors that shape faculty’s day-to-day professional experiences influence their teaching practices. Important findings of this study include the fact that full-time faculty employ progressive teaching methods to a greater extent than part-time faculty; that part-time faculty feel excluded from the community of their school or department; and that institutional policies and practices that limit part-time faculty access to teaching-related resources can inhibit their implementation of effective teaching methods.

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