Part-Time Instructors and Faculty-Student Interaction: A Study of Perception and Practice in the Community College Classroom
The purpose of this phenomenological study was to examine part-time (PT) community college instructors’ experiences with (and perceptions of) faculty-student interaction in their classrooms, and to describe the extent to which these faculty participate in (and benefit from) professional development activities aimed at improving those interactions. I administered online surveys to roughly equivalent samples of PT and part-time faculty (39 total), then conducted semi-structured interviews with a sample of ten adjuncts from one Southern California campus. To explore their perceptions and reported practices related to classroom FSI, I posed the following research questions: 1) How do part-time community college faculty perceive their in-class faculty-student interaction? 2) What institutional, departmental, and external barriers and opportunities influence classroom interactions according to part-time faculty? Through a sequential process of comparative, pattern/focus, and axial coding, I developed themes that led to primary and secondary findings. The study’s primary findings centered on part-time instructors’ self-reported roles in fostering high-quality classroom FSI, which were focused on selective personal disclosure, employing social skills & subject expertise to mentor students, varying attitudes toward faculty/student power differentials, and the degree to which their FSI is marked by a balance between building connections and negotiating boundaries. Secondary findings pertained to adjuncts’ descriptions of classroom FSI. Interviewee’s narratives highlighted the importance of practices which include engaging students in non-academic pre-class chit chat to bond socially, moderating inclusive class discussions to ensure that students are “heard” and have a degree of “say” in the nature and direction of those discussions, and the use of classroom management techniques aimed at fostering positive relationships with students while upholding appropriate relational boundaries that reinforce classroom conduct policies. With increasing proportions of adjunct faculty teaching at community colleges on the one hand, and at-risk students’ growing reliance on these institutions as a gateway to higher education on the other, this study was, in part, a response to scholars like Yu, et al (2015), who have signaled the need for more qualitative research on the roles of adjunct faculty in college classrooms, and their impact on students’ outcomes. To this end, I’ve employed my findings to offer a series of actionable recommendations for part-time CC faculty and the administrators tasked with supporting them.