The Faculty Readiness Website: Preparing Instructors and Building Community

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Key Takeaways

  • To proactively engage and onboard new faculty members, Davenport University created a Faculty Readiness website to connect them to essential course information and to the university's faculty community.
  • Although aimed at new instructors, the site is also a key resource for establishing community among part-time and online instructors, who might not have the same on-ground opportunities for interaction as full-time faculty.
  • The website's success has inspired the university to begin planning larger, more collaborative projects and online resources to continue improving services to its adjunct population.

At Davenport University, we rely on our adjunct faculty to round out our course schedules in each seven-week term throughout our academic year. Davenport recognizes the important role that this segment of our faculty population plays in the university's overall success: as part of the Faculty Learning team within our Office of Performance Excellence (OPE), my role at Davenport is focused on welcoming and supporting the adjunct instructors in our community. I serve as a point of contact for instructors situated across 12 on-ground and online campuses, leveraging technology to share information and build opportunities for adjuncts to participate in university initiatives and events. The OPE's Faculty Readiness website is an example of this kind of opportunity: it uses technology to inform, engage, and support our instructors.

Demo of the Faculty Readiness site (4:45 minutes)

All Davenport instructors need access to syllabus templates, policy language, classroom management guidelines, grading instructions, and information to help them use online tools and other university resources. However, adjunct instructors might be hired later in the process of preparing for the new term to fill gaps in an existing schedule as additional course sections are added. They might also be newly recruited subject matter experts without Davenport-specific knowledge or experience. Additionally, if they have been hired to teach online, these instructors might not have access to our on-ground university campuses for face-to-face assistance with course preparation.

Workforce studies indicate that "leading organizations are thinking more proactively about the way they onboard talent by adopting new practices," often utilizing "innovative technology solutions to achieve results."1 Given this, the OPE decided to build an onboarding product that would connect learners to information and connect instructors to the Davenport University faculty community in new and meaningful ways. The Faculty Readiness website provides the up-to-date information these valued instructors need to deliver strong and successful classes each time they teach.

About Faculty Readiness

Faculty Readiness at Davenport University is an instructor onboarding and course preparation website designed with three goals in mind:

  • Connect Davenport faculty with colleagues and resources
  • Give them an understanding of the university's best practices
  • Help them effectively develop successful courses

Although onboarding tools are designed to help orient and "socialize" new employees within an organization,2 this site, created with instructors in mind, provides new and seasoned faculty alike with the latest information. Further, although it was created to meet our adjunct population's needs, the site's information also serves full-time faculty. It has the potential to connect Davenport with the larger higher education community as well, because we invite site visitors to learn more about us, and it might inspire new students, faculty, and staff to join Davenport University's community.

Dynamic and expandable, the Faculty Readiness website aims to be more than a one-time destination for incoming instructors, encouraging lifelong learning among our entire faculty population. The site is a living resource that can grow with instructors and invites return visits when they want to refresh their knowledge. The site consists of short, modular posts organized into groups, or "series." Currently, the site features six series: Building Your Syllabus, Beginning Your Course, Establishing Grading Practices, Managing Your Classroom, Online Tools, and Faculty Resources. Each series contains an average of 14 screencasts and films offering targeted bursts of information on particular topics (see figure 1). These topics support instructor and student success and range from learning how to navigate the university's learning management system (LMS) to understanding weighted grades to building a great learning environment.

figure 1

Figure 1. Sample screencast module

Faculty Readiness at Davenport University is an essential part of our ongoing course preparation process. It is also a means of connecting instructors to the Davenport community: specifically, the Faculty Resources series features warm welcomes from key university stakeholders, including our president and our provost, as well as introductions to additional faculty champions that our instructors regularly interact with, such as our Library and Student Affairs directors (see figure 2). Our collection of short films lets new full-time and adjunct faculty directly associate varied university services with the actual people who provide them; it also helps both new and seasoned faculty maintain a sense of connection with Davenport colleagues, which is a key part of our campus culture.

figure 2

Figure 2. Sample series with short film modules

Challenges and Resolutions

We faced many challenges and addressed many needs in the course of building the Faculty Readiness at Davenport University website. The issues fall into three main areas: costs/logistics, freshness/relevance, and connection/community.


In the past, Davenport shared new instructor information through paper-based resources. That approach negatively impacted both instructors and the university, as information had to be rebuilt from scratch — and reprinted — every time we changed policy information or the organizational structure, and any time a faculty-supporting member of the Davenport community retired. Shifting to a web-based solution eliminates printing costs and allows information to be shared online and accessed on demand.

Rather than adding expense in meeting existing needs, Faculty Learning and the OPE were challenged to construct a budget-neutral solution that could continue to reduce operational costs after inception. The Faculty Readiness website was built as an ancillary community within the same knowledge-sharing technology platform as Davenport's primary informal learning community, which we employ through a contract agreement with a third-party vendor. Because it is a subsidiary site within a larger platform, we were able to leverage our existing contract with our site vendor and made no additional capital investment.


In addition to cost issues, paper documents also age very quickly. Keeping our instructors up to date means sharing information that is relevant now and looking ahead to what our faculty might need to know in the future; over time, printed material seems less and less able to maintain the pace of change. Also, Davenport has a' multi-campus structure, and paper documents must be disseminated to all of the campuses in our system, which further slows the pace of communication. The Faculty Readiness website's modular platform is both rapidly expandable and easily updatable: a single stale element can be replaced while the rest of the site stays live.

Just as all organizations must process new employees, new instructors must be added into Davenport's human resources and record-keeping systems. Because that process takes time, instructors can sometimes experience delayed access to course preparation materials. This is particularly common when instructors are hired close to the start of a new seven-week term (often due to an enrollment bump) or in response to an individual replacement need; in any case, such delays present a failure risk to adjuncts and the students they teach. Because the Faculty Readiness website is public-facing, instructors can begin course preparation immediately upon hire. Although sensitive information housed within the university's firewall is inaccessible, a public site lets new instructors gain familiarity with the people and processes that can help them succeed while secure accounts are being constructed for them.


The Faculty Readiness website was designed to help both adjunct and full-time faculty become part of the university community, but also was created to reach out to our part-time faculty population, who might not have the advantage of traditional campus-based departments to fully socialize themselves within the university. In keeping with industry strategies that increasingly seek to proactively "integrate part-time faculty members into their institutions' cultures" to enhance organizational and student success,3 the OPE worked collaboratively with academic representatives to construct an onboarding experience that gave faculty an immediate sense of the Davenport community.

Because this is a public-facing website, we knew we needed to be careful with public material. To eliminate the need for site monitoring, we restricted publishing rights to a secure group of users within the Davenport firewall — but did our best to still produce the feeling of a conversation. As previously discussed, the Faculty Resources series highlights actual members of the DU community introducing themselves and the resources they manage, so adjuncts "meet" real people and have immediate points of connection. Finally, because we knew this website would be publicly accessible, it was constructed to conform to Davenport University's visual and content marketing standards.

Status of Faculty Readiness Website

Faculty Readiness at Davenport University went live in August of 2012 and was used throughout the 2012–13 academic year. Information will be updated on the site in 2013–14, with further updates coinciding with new academic years. It is currently being shared with new on-ground and online adjunct faculty through Davenport's associate department chairs, who manage the adjunct instructors within their own academic departments. The site is also shared at Davenport's new-employee orientations, where it is positioned as a means to introduce all new hires, whether faculty or staff, to important information about key people within the university.

Impact of Faculty Readiness Website

In its first 12 months of operation, the Faculty Readiness website has logged more than 9,000 hits. We cannot track individual users; given the risk of attracting potentially negative commentary on a public site, we disabled both analytics and communication at this more granular level. However, the hits do follow a pattern, which coincides with the progression of seven-week terms throughout the year: site traffic typically peaks two to three weeks prior to a new term's start, a crucial time for instructor preparation of upcoming courses. This pattern allows us to conclude that the tool is reaching its targeted audience and having the impact desired within the Davenport community.

Also, in my ongoing communications with Davenport's adjunct faculty population, I have personally received feedback from instructors that supports my conclusions about the site's positive impact. Here are two examples of that feedback, shared with the permissions of the instructors:

"[My] Dad is jealous of the resources that Davenport provides me. He taught at Miami University, Indiana University East, Northern Kentucky University, and none of them compared."
—Dennis Behrens, Instructor, Davenport University College of Technology, and UNIX System Administrator 5, GE Aviation Systems
"We need strong employees, and we need to provide info to make them curious instructors. But we can't forget who our employees are. This [site] was made in the voice of Davenport, and creates a strong foundation without overwhelming new instructors. This is cool."
—Maryly Skallos, Instructor, Davenport University College of Technology, and Instruction Designer Specialist II, Ellucian

It is also possible that our Faculty Readiness website is circulating beyond the university. Although the site has the potential to serve as a recruiting tool for new instructors, its basic analytic capability currently limits our knowledge of its use in this capacity. Because, as Laurano reminds us,4 "[t]he first impression an organization makes is often the most critical," this new level of data collection is certain to become our next challenge.

Building on Success

The Faculty Readiness website's success has inspired the OPE to seek out larger, more collaborative projects and to venture farther into the creation of online resources, all with an eye toward greater service to our adjunct population.

In 2012–13, we teamed with Davenport's executive director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to create a self-paced, individual, online course in diversity and inclusion. This course grew out of a university learning initiative within the Davenport community; leveraging the production knowledge we gained in building the Faculty Readiness at Davenport University site, the OPE team was able to construct the course by adapting on-ground materials to an online delivery format, scripting, storyboarding, and filming modules that could then be housed in the university's LMS and accessed on demand by our adjunct instructors.

In 2013–14, this process will be repeated as the university's learning initiative in diversity and inclusion deepens into a second year of on-ground and online training. In addition, the Faculty Readiness site might factor into future revisions of existing faculty orientation and onboarding programs, which are jointly designed and delivered by Davenport's OPE and Office of Human Resources. Such a development would permit greater expansion of both content production and audience consumption.

  1. Madeline Laurano, Strategic Onboarding 2013: A New Look at New Hires, report, The Aberdeen Group, 2013, p. 2.
  2. Guangrong Dai, A Review of Onboarding Literature, report, The Korn/Ferry Institute, 2007, p. 2.
  3. Richard E. Lyons, Success Strategies for Adjunct Faculty (Pearson, 2004), p. 7.
  4. Laurano, Strategic Onboarding, p. 2.