Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Ask the Administrator: Mandatory Workshops

An annoyed correspondent writes:

I'm an adjunct at a community college. My community college recently instituted a requirement that everyone who teaches an online class take an eight hour workshop, which is quite burdensome. I understand you cannot offer any specific legal advice, but by requiring a specific workshop taught only by the college, isn't the college asking me to act as an employee, rather than as contractor? It seems like there's a blog post in here about what colleges can and cannot require adjuncts to do.

In my specific case, I don't want to do it both because the workshop conflicts with my other job (so I have to burn eight hours of vacation time) but also because the workshop is probably worthless....

I’ll open by saying I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t address the finer points of employment law.

That said, it’s pretty common practice among colleges to require training on the web platform used for online classes. That becomes particularly important when a college “migrates” from one platform to another, as we’re doing this year.

I’ll discuss how we do it where I am, and then open up the comments to see if others have found good ways to handle it.

Both the adjuncts and the full-time faculty here are unionized, so questions like these are collectively bargained. The union has agreed that adjuncts can be “required” to attend one meeting per semester as a condition of employment; we don’t typically enforce that beyond the first semester, but the option is there. For something like this, where a one-hour meeting is unlikely to address the issue, we pay a stipend.

Even with that, of course, there are issues. Some people need all the training they can get, while others already know quite well what they’re doing. In the case of something like a web platform, some of our adjuncts have already learned that platform at the other places they teach, and they may have already been using it for years. The most elegant solution I’ve seen to that is to find an online training with a certificate of completion at the end; if you’re already fluent enough that you can blast through a six hour program in thirty minutes, more power to you. Present certificate, receive check, end of discussion.

Theoretically, one could simply leave the training up to the initiative of the instructor. Ten years from now, online education will probably by commonplace enough -- and the platforms streamlined enough -- that that may be a realistic option. But for the moment, the issues of quality control are serious enough that I wouldn’t recommend it. The problem is that newbies don’t know what they don’t know, until a mob of angry students storms the dean’s office. At that point, the damage is done.

In terms of the legal issue, I don’t know of any legal prohibition against paying adjuncts for workshops. Yes, there are issues to address around uniformity, but we address those as a matter of course. The legal issue I’m concerned with is a “permatemp” claim, not a complaint about a one-day workshop.

That’s how it works here, anyway. Wise and worldly readers, how does your campus handle workshops for adjuncts?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

An eight hour workshop? I had to take a seven week online class!

I adjunct at two different schools (one a cc and one a regional university) and both require extensive training for those teaching online courses. Having gone through the training, I suspect that at least part of the reason for requiring it may be legal on the part of the school -- because of ADA and accessibility requirements imposed on the school offering the class, it's in their best interest to make sure the instructors have at least some knowledge of online pedagogy and accessible design (not just knowing how to turn on the CMS discussion board feature).

At least I got lucky that my cc is happy to accept the certification from the other school, so I only have to go through training once.
On our campus, we require people to take online training to become certified to teach online. The training course is asynchronous so that it can be completed at any time during the training time period. We also offer the class multiple times. This means that people like the OP who have other employment can complete the training without having it interfere with that other job AND faculty get to experience the online environment as learners - something that helps them as they move to design their own online courses.
Our college sometimes gives small bonuses to adjuncts for meetings or trainings.
A couple of comments.

I think any reasonable reading of most labor law, and of most adjunct contracts, would lead to the conclusion that adjuncts are employees, not contractors. (The employer withholds federal income taxes and FICA taxes, for example.)

But requiring attendance at a workshop without pay is likely to raise flage.

And requiring a workshop for online instruction? As Bethany points out, there are ways to do thin on-line and somewhat self-paced...but this also should trigger compensation.

My institution tends not to have adjuncts teaching our online classes, so we tend not to face this particular issue; the online classes are generally taught by f-t faculty.
Many Universities treat adjuncts as contractors, which frees them up from having to pay unemployment. Unfortunately, they also treat adjuncts like unofficial employees, trying to compel them to do things (like this) for which they are not paid or recognized.

Ironically, at the school where I teach, the issue has been the *lack* of access to training. Until recently, adjuncts weren't allowed to participate in most professional development opportunities because "we aren't sure you'll be back and don't want to waste resources on you." Despite about a 90% re-hire rate, year to year. In the last year this has started to change, but all of our workshops are voluntary.

So - original poster - if the training is asynchronous, just do it. If it must be done during a specific 8-hour time block, have a friendly conversation with your chair or supervisor, and explain the difficulty (necessitating use of vacation time from second job). See if they will at least offer some token compensation, or if they plan to offer it at an alternate time. You are unlikely to be the only one with this problem. It is just possible that some administrator didn't really think through what they're asking here, and they might become more flexible. (or not, but it is worth a try)
At our institution, all faculty have to take a one-hour Angel orientation in order to teach online, but that is all. Adjuncts are usually fine with that (some tenured folks don't like it!). We had a separate issue where we needed our adjuncts to attend an assessment workshop so our department could maintain model standing with our assessment practices/reflection. In that case, our Standards, Outcomes, Competencies Committee was able to compensate the adjuncts for their time. In fact, in most cases on our campus, adjuncts do receive compensation for those types of "extras".

If the department/college is asking you to teach online, then this is a niche area that they obviously need. That online class is probably going to fill like wildfire and will hugely benefit the college. I would ask if they have an asynchronous option, like another commenter suggested, or see if you can talk to the Instructional Design Director separately and see if you can work out a separate arrangement to fulfill the requirement. Good luck!!!
The problem is that newbies don’t know what they don’t know, until a mob of angry students storms the dean’s office.

And this never happens in regular f2f classes, right Dean Dad? Ah, the things I have seen as a quasi-disinterested observer of college life.

Our CC is doing something worse than yours, we are upgrading within the "same" CMS. This also has mandatory training, which is scheduled BEFORE we can have any access of any kind to the new system. Observations:

1) If the person running the workshop about teaching on-line can't do it on line, they have no business doing it at all. (This is distinct from teaching how to turn on the computer and use the CMS itself, which usually needs to be done in person.)

2) As a f-t tenured professor, I proudly join other colleagues in standing up and asking question #1 at training sessions that employ pseudo teaching. (Favorite workshop of all time was a lecture about not using lectures to teach a class.)

3) I will do my best to dodge the workshop on [new CMS x.0] on the basis that if it is that hard to use, we never should have adopted it. I often get away with this, but I do want to see a promotional video that I can FF past the junk and pause to see if they fixed what was broken or broke what worked. After that, all I really need is access to my actual courses on my browser and computer of choice, followed by an hour in a room with same and a person who can answer my few questions.

4) The best approach is to have mentors, teaming up new people with ones who beta-tested the system. We migrated some on-line sections to a beta server this summer to develop that expertise.
My CC requires a long (I forget how many weeks) online training for anyone to be able to teach online. No stipend. I assume the rationale is that we don't "require" anyone to take the training--you can still teach on-ground sections without it. It's an option for instructors who would like to expand their opportunities.
My CC gives you two choices - a 6 hour in-person course spread over 3 sessions and a 3-credit online course. I agree with @CCPhysicist that there is no good excuse why the 6 hour course couldn't be online.

Regardless, I don't get paid for the time. I WAS able to guilt the training department into offering a late class (4pm start rather than noon) to accommodate those of us who have day jobs, but I still have to leave work early.

Does it annoy me? Yes. Am I doing it anyway? Yes. Teaching online cuts my commute time substantially and increases the number of sections I can cover. That's worth the trouble.
The technical mastery of the CMS and any synchronous tools you might have is half the problem. It's a different environment and you have to teach differently. To put it into one catch phrase, you have to be interactive. I know a lot of faculty get up in arms about "being told how to teach," but I also know a lot of faculty who went into online unprepared and got overwhelmed trying to manage the course.
Our CC (and I think the whole system) requires a semester-long training to teach on-line/hybrid courses, and one to teach WI courses. They are compensated. I will say that I've done both trainings, and they've been the most valuable teaching trainings I've ever done (useful in all my courses, not just the hybrid and WI sections). The training for on-line though is for first time course development -- if they've been teaching on-line, they don't have to take the training.
I'll tell you what I do when these situations arise: I just don't go.

Usually the so-called "required" training isn't really required, and no one ever checks. Often, it is driven by legal compliance reasons (aka CYA) rather than any real need -- which tends to mean that the training is a waste of time, but also that administrators have no interest in spending their time going after folks who don't show up. Each year, I actually *hope* that some administrator will show up on my doorstep to mention that I haven't attended, so I can have an amusing conversation about the purpose and uselessness of those workshops -- but they never do. Ah well.

Then again, I'm a tenured full-time prof, so my strategy may be totally inapplicable to adjuncts.
The issue of paid and unpaid time is a big one for Australian adjuncts, where working online is also becoming part of a broader pattern of working two or three jobs. Our traditional institutions can be a little slow to respect this, as they've grown fat on the idea that adjunct teaching is part of the grad student experience, so the workers are already in the building somewhere on the day that the training workshop is run. Now that we're relying on a much wider labour pool, we've had to figure out not only the cost to them of the time in the room but the time (and commuting) cost away from their other paid jobs. I'd have to say this respectful practice is still a work in progress, but one big step forward is the formalisation of training so that the day spent in the room results in a certificate and something for the resume.
Spring makes an excellent point. If I was going to be teaching an on-line class rather than just migrating to a "new" CMS, I would definitely participate in a training program -- provided it wasn't bogus for the reasons stated above.

The best way to see how to use a CMS to teach an on-line course is to see it done well (and badly) in an on-line training program.

What I think needs more attention is the use of a CMS and on-line homework in regular classes. Computers are not magical in some cargo-cult fashion. You need the right kind of tool and it must be integrated into how you teach, with its role reevaluated and refined every semester.
Wait, why are we assuming that the workshop is paid?
Anyways, if the workshop is online, log in, put it on mute, and get caught up on your housecleaning/chores/whatever. If it's in person, clock in and duck out.
One reason that the college may require the workshop is to fulfill accreditation requirements. SACS, for example, requires everyone teaching online to have training in online teaching and continuing education annually.

My suspicion is if it is required of everyone then it can be required for adjuncts.
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