Interview With Dr. Kirk Astle (Part II)
Last week we shared the first portion of an interview with Dr. Kirk Astle, Director of College Writing at Baker College Online. This week we conclude that interview.
Adjunct Advocate: How much of the composition faculty at Baker is full-time?
Dr. Astle: At Baker College Online I am the only full time Composition faculty member.
Adjunct Advocate: What challenges do you encounter guiding faculty in an online program?
Dr. Astle: The college is a dynamic place with several initiatives aimed at improving many aspects of its curriculum and mission so there are many compelling ideas affecting the teaching and learning of writing that I put before faculty for their consideration and input. The challenge is collecting and accurately representing the faculty’s input to Baker initiatives and some of my questions. For instance, on writing-related issues, I have solicited feedback on how and why faculty provide the types of feedback on participation that they do to get a sense of what may be a wide array of teaching in the college’s main discursive venue, the Discussion Board. I think this kind of writing is overlooked in formal assessments and may need more research and scrutiny. The Discussion Board is a common discursive venue cutting across all disciplines at Online, and I feel that teaching students how to engage in that forum is paramount to learning to write effectively for various audiences and purposes while also serving students in future courses and their careers. Guiding the faculty erupts out of student and faculty needs, and the challenge is accurately identifying or prioritizing what those needs are and then determining how best to address them. I try to guide based on those needs rather than anything I devise or project in advance.
Another challenge is my relative anonymity. Faculty are beginning to get a sense that I’m here to help them in their jobs and profession. Only now, after eight months, do some faculty seem comfortable emailing me questions.
Adjunct Advocate: What challenges do you encounter guiding adjunct faculty?
Dr. Astle: See above.
Adjunct Advocate: Do your adjunct faculty members publish scholarly works?
Dr. Astle: Yes, but it is not required as a condition of employment.
Adjunct Advocate: Non-scholarly works (such as fiction or poetry)?
Dr. Astle: Yes, but it is not required as a condition of employment.
Adjunct Advocate: What does Baker do to support adjunct faculty scholarship?
Dr. Astle: To my knowledge, Baker Online does not specifically support adjunct faculty scholarship but it does support continued advancement in pedagogy demonstrated by the College Writing Conference (CWC) and inviting faculty to participate in the annual Faculty Conference, which addresses discipline-specific issues and invites faculty to participate in the life of the institution. The System president Jim Cummins and Vice President for Academics Denise Bannan both scored papers using the System-wide essay rubrics during the day long CWC. Empathizing with the writing faculty’s immense grading task, Mr. Cummins commented on the extraordinary amount of work it took to effectively evaluate student essays using the rubrics and demonstrated his complete support for the faculty’s move to increase rigor in the English courses.
The Baker System also offers funding for faculty projects, which “must enhance the faculty member’s knowledge and teaching or otherwise improve student learning at Baker College and be consistent with the College’s Mission and Purposes.” In these terms, this funding addresses more needs than supporting faculty scholarship alone. The funding comes from Baker’s Jewell Educational Fund, providing a total of $150,000 for faculty projects to be implemented during the 2010-2011 fiscal year. (Faculty are defined in this offer as those “currently employed as a Baker College faculty member” and who “deliver per year courses totaling at least 24 credits.”).
Baker also provides the Employee Scholarship that offers part-time faculty, after six-months of consecutive employment, the opportunity to take up to eight credit hours per academic quarter at no charge—but no more than 24 credit hours per academic year on “an available” basis. I’ve included the link below.
Adjunct Advocate: From your perspective as Director of College Writing for Baker College Online, what would your ideal be for an online college writing faculty? (I’m asking everything from what contracts would be like to what training would be like—an open-ended invitation.) And can you say a few words about why this would be your ideal?
Dr. Astle: One of the many pleasant and encouraging surprises of working at Baker College is that the college shares many of my professional ideals. For instance, one ideal I have is to help increase the number of full-time professors in General Education and in English specifically and this would necessitate increasing the support staff necessary for the effective functioning of the institution. Another ideal I have is to support more effectively faculty and student writing by offering a fully functional, appropriately credentialed and trained staff for a seamlessly integrated Online Writing Center. And since the question is a bit of a blank check, my ideal would also include ensuring that the faculty’s teaching experiences would be 100% effective, enjoyable, and rewarding in every sense of those words. I think attaining this ideal can come only under the college’s continued commitment to including faculty of all statuses in its decision-making across the college’s many facets. I think this makes perfect sense, since the faculty are the experts in their fields. Additionally, I would like to see an undergraduate research initiative across all disciplines launched to help students become self-directed learners and contributors to their career fields as “co-workers in the kingdom of culture,” to borrow language from W. E. B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk. I’m taking DuBois’ words as partly synonymous with the notion that undergraduate research initiatives help students assume more accountability for their learning while developing them as leaders and supporting their contributions toward a better society. I would like to see continued efforts to support faculty scholarship and creativity because they ground education and they have substantial impacts in the classroom as instructors transfer their energies to the students when they teach their scholarship. In other words, one ideal I have is to advocate the aggressive support for the symbiotic relationship in higher education between scholarship, teaching, and service.
Adjunct Advocate: As you know, this blog focuses on adjunct faculty and writing, and addresses all aspects of those topics (everything from tips for how to write better to reflections on adjuncts may teach differently from full time faculty). Consider this an open-ended invitation: do you have any thoughts on this matter?
Dr. Astle: I regretfully have to defer because the open-ended nature gives me little to respond to and would generate my own meandering thoughts on largely personal and necessarily ill-defined topics. Please accept my apologies. However, as a member of the professional organization the Modern Language Association (MLA), as I am assuming you are as well, I do concur with the “MLA Statement on the Use of Part-Time and Full-Time Adjunct Faculty Members.” Please find the link to that statement below:
Adjunct Advocate: Thank you very much for your reflective answers, Dr. Astle.