Predicting the Future of College Teaching: Virtual Experiments and Tenure for Adjuncts

Tinsley By Ron Tinsley 

In my previous entry, “Predicting the Future of College Teaching: Robo Adjuncts & GPS Student Trackers,” I offered up the first five of ten predictions concerning the future of higher education. Here is the second batch of predictions.

#5 Virtual Experiments

I remember when I was a teen, I frequented arcades (before home gaming systems put them out of business). I remember looking forward to virtual reality. It was supposed to be this experience that puts you in the game. You would wear a headset and stand in an open area. Through the headseat, you can actually see the game in 3-D. Now, thanks to multimedia programming languages such as JAVA, virtual reality is possible. In the higher education world, virtual experiments are becoming common. Architects has been designing buildings using computer aided design (CAD) for several years. Johns Hopkins University offers an engineering course that utilizes virtual experiments. This means that students can simulate complex engineering processes in a virtual laboratory. This frees the university from purchasing expensive equipment and materials, and allows professors to introduce real life situations into the classroom.

If any adjuncts plan on doing any virtual experiments in class involving nuclear power, just be glad that destroying half the eastern seaboard in only a virtual reality.

#4 The Coming Adolescent Onslaught

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding a program that would allow 10th graders to graduate from high school and attend community college. The National Center on Education and the Economy is organizing this program to help low income and minority students finish college. Dual credit college classes for high school students are becoming more popular giving high school students higher education experience. Adjuncts, are you ready to teach more 15- and 16-year-olds? The program is set to start in several states in 2011. If you have ever taught high school students or chaperoned some youth-oriented club, dust off your creativity and patience. I have been teaching high school and college classes for the last three years, so I have learned to adjust when high schoolers are in my college classes. I can tell you this much: get ready for a challenge!

#3  Jet-Setting Adjuncts

Universities and colleges are hiring adjuncts because it is cheaper for them than hiring tenure-line faculty. College don’t pay faculty off the tenure-track full benefits. There are some parts of the country (such as the eastern seaboard that was not destroyed thanks to that virtual experiment technology I mentioned earlier) where cities are very close to one another. I presently teach two college classes in different states. I can imagine this idea becoming more relevant in Western Europe as the European Union attempts to harness the advantages of major European cities being close to one another. (European governments continue to invest in public transportation unlike the U.S.) In the northeastern U.S., where several major cities are predicted to form one big metropolis (from Boston to Baltimore) in 100 years, this idea may not be that far-fetched. If you happen to be the international type, you will need to have more diversified skills (language, culture, etc) to be able to function traveling from Geneva to Vienna. (But airfare will have to come down significantly!)

#2 Social Media as a Learning Tool

Project-based learning is already the rage, but what about using social media to teach a class? Some say the lecture is dead and short attention spans rule. Teaching via Twitter. This idea may strike fear in some professors because it totally changes the power dynamic of the classroom.  One positive side of social media is that, if used properly, it can encourage consensus and collaboration. Young people are really big into exchanging data and it is rapidly becoming a part of our social and professional networks. However, deciding which kinds of social media are valuable is the difficult part.  Social media is not going away, so we should find a way to use it. Can someone invent social media for use in college classes minus the neurosis of communicating at lightning speed?

#1 Tenure for Adjuncts! When do we want it? Now!!

This is a real issue with adjuncts since there are some that produce quality research and teaching that can rival tenured professors. We all know that it is the research that brings recognition and funding to professors and their respective schools. The biennial meeting of the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor held in Quebec City would like to see adjunct positions converted to the tenure-track. This meeting attracted professors from United States and Mexico, as well. According to a 2007 American Association of University Professors study, nearly 70 percent of faculty were neither tenured nor tenure-track. This implies that only a very select few make tenure. The flexibility and creativity of adjuncts should be attractive qualities. Universities will devise a new system for tenured adjuncts. There are adjuncts with doctorates who do eventually make it to full-time tenure-track, but I am talking about being tenured and not teaching full-time. As the number of adjuncts grows, there will be more attacks on job security. If colleges and universities don’t respond, it could mean high turn-over rates which can affect the quality of a department and/or program. 

About the Adjunct: Ron Tinsley is a Communications Director by day and an Adjunct Instructor by night. He teaches classes on Urban Youth Culture, Media Literacy and Urban Studies. He has a BFA in Graphic Design from The University of the Arts, and a MA in Urban Studies from Eastern University. For the past 20 years, he has worked with children, youth and families from disadvantaged communities. He is nervously entertaining the idea of getting a PhD.

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