DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly
Volume 11 Number 3
2017 11.3  |  XMLPDFPrint

The New Itinerancy: Digital Pedagogy and the Adjunct Instructor in the Modern Academy

Andrew Bretz <abretz_at_wlu_dot_ca>, Wilfrid Laurier University


In the Fall of 2015, I was hired as contract academic staff at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of English and Film Studies to teach the foundation course EN245 “The English Literary Tradition (Beginnings to 1660)” for the first time as a course with a heavy DH component. My paper is a case study investigating the challenges of creating and delivering a partially online course in a university environment where the majority of teaching is done by sessional instructors whose labour is systemically marginalized by administration. Sessional instructors (or “educational entrepreneurs”) have even more limited resources (in terms of time, access to technical support, and access to administration) than tenure track faculty; however, open-access educational tools aren’t serving merely to level the playing field, but reshape it altogether as technical support and access to administrative support cease to matter in the delivery of an educational product. Today, many of the tools that are sufficient for the creation of a successful online or partially online course, whether generalist - iTunesU, Zotero, YouTube - or specialist - Google NGram, the University of Victoria`s Map of Early Modern London, Internet Shakespeare Editions - are freely available to instructors.

Such freely available tools problematize the relationship between the instructor and the university insofar as universities tend to use proprietary systems (e.g. Desire2Learn) for everything, including data management, presentation, communication, and gradebook integration with the registrar’s office. Universities, in insisting on using these universal proprietary systems for every aspect of course delivery, exacerbate the disenfranchisement of sessional instructors, as access to the support required to become experts in these tools is limited and taken on at the instructor’s cost. A sessional instructor can create an entire course using freely available online tools, at minimal cost and reaching a tremendously large and diverse audience, yet cannot then market that course to any university that has a similar course as an educational product. At the present moment, the sessional instructor and the course are both subject to the curriculum of an individual university and department, despite the fact that courses with a heavy DH component tend towards portability, interoperability, and modularity that renders such boundaries largely incoherent. Though there are attempts to provide funding for courses that will bridge interuniversity boundaries such as the $4.5 million put forward by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities as a part of the eCampus Ontario initiative, such funding models largely exclude the sessional instructor, who cannot apply for funding as an “educational entrepreneur.” My paper will tell the story of how I tried to navigate a university system that tried to keep me from using free tools, while at the same time promoting my course as a part of the eCampus Ontario initiative.

The New Medievalism

At present in the western academy, sessional and adjunct instructors are not protected from government or private assaults on free speech through institutional mechanisms such as tenure, but neither are they beholden to an individual university’s digital architecture or position regarding copyright. Adjuncts are unprotected yet mobile, and the present scenario we have today in Canada and across the western world echoes the labour model of the medieval university. Then, the majority of academic labour was undertaken by an itinerant class of scholars who would wander from place to place, seeking short term employment, stigmatized for their lack of permanent patronage. Today, across North America and around the world, the labour model of the higher education sector is reliant upon sessional instructors or adjuncts[1] to shoulder an increasingly large portion of undergraduate teaching load (See Figures 1 and 2).[2] Monks notes that, “in 1975, only 30.2 percent of faculty were employed part time; by 2005 [...] part-time faculty represented approximately 48 percent of all faculty members in the United States”  [Monks 2009]. Whereas the systemic inequalities attendant upon the increasing reliance upon adjunct instructors has been widely discussed in the academy, most of these analyses tend to look at part-time contract work in the absence of the digital turn in the academy [Bauder 2005, 228–39] [CAUT/ACPPU 2015] [Wunker 2016, 7]. At the same time as universities have become increasingly reliant on sessional labour, administrators are pressuring instructors to integrate technology into their lesson plans as a way of increasing pedagogical efficiency and remaining on the apparent cutting edge of research [Mosley 2014, 5ff]. What I would like to suggest in this article is that the move towards integrating digital humanities into the pedagogical mainstream of university education, combined with the increasing reliance on sessional and adjunct instruction, is having the unintended result of creating a new kind of wandering academic and changing the way that undergraduate education will be undertaken in the future. Rather than the laborious journeys described by medieval and early modern scholars who went from ducal court to royal court to university and back seeking patronage, we now face a class of online itinerants who can move their course material from one university to another, without regard to geography, local conditions, or (paradoxically) administrative interference. The use of digital tools has opened up an entirely new world of humanities education, but it has also resulted in a turning back of the clock almost 1000 years.
Figure 1. 
“Trends in instructional staff employment status from 1975-2011.” Adapted from “Here’s the News: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession,” by J. W. Curtis & S. Thornton, 2013, Academe, 99(2), 7. Copyright 2008 by the American Association of University Professors.
Figure 2. 
“Appointment Status of Full Time Female University Teachers” CAUT Almanac 2013-14

Policy and Entrepreneurship

Late in 2015, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities in Ontario released the report “Focus on Outcomes, Centre on Students: Perspectives on Evolving Ontario’s University Funding Model” [Focus 2015]. The report was spearheaded by former Deputy Minister for Advanced Education and Skills Development Suzanne Herbert and was developed in consultation with groups such as the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, representatives of individual universities, and others [Meet the Executive Lead]. As the report analyzed university funding models, it was deeply invested in the rhetoric of commercial value of the educational experience — “Employment readiness and value for money were among key concerns raised by consultation participants [such as students]”  [Meet the Executive Lead, 15]— and long term sustainability of the university sector. The report also suggested the importance of student experience, understood primarily through the blending of technological skills with traditional academic skills, as a means of gearing students for a competitive job market. This focus on the transferability of skills from inside to outside the academy is in keeping with recent research that suggests that universities have an obligation to develop student competency in technological and workplace based skills [Blewitt 2010, 477–88] [Brundiers et al. 2010, 309ff]. “Employers hire students based upon the assumption they have learned the newest form of technology in school, thus saving money on getting students trained to use technology”  [Mosley 2014, 36]. In the report, sessional or adjunct instructors are called “educational entrepreneurs”; the report encourages “entrepreneurial learning [&] research”; quality of education was measured in terms of a “customer satisfaction or value-for-money perspective”  [Focus 2015, 37]. Online course delivery (though not exclusively online course delivery) was considered a flexible and attractive alternative to inefficient traditional classroom settings that tend to undermine the “consumer” orientation of many students [Focus 2015, 37]. Notably absent, however, are key recommendations from scholarly research on the integration of technology in the classroom that call for supplemental pay for instructors who have fully integrated technology into the classroom or the development of training sessions for instructors who seek to follow the guidance of the report [Georgina and Hosford 2009, 696ff]. In simultaneously encouraging the integration of technology into the classroom and putting the onus for technological competence on the educational entrepreneur (viz. the instructor), the report absolves universities of the responsibility for paying for the skills they wish to disseminate to their students. The report, however, should be thought of metonymically, as it encapsulates a number of policy positions that are becoming increasingly popular among university administrators and students across Canada and around the world.
Student attitudes towards the online delivery of courses are notoriously difficult to gauge [Kaznowska et al. 2011, 1] and thus they have proven to be relatively unsound foundations upon which to build policy decisions regarding education. There are few studies available that look directly at student attitudes towards sessional/adjunct labour or to attitudes towards digital delivery of courses and there are no studies that look at the confluence between the two issues. When student leaders have been directly asked to participate in policy making projects, such as the AUCC report, The Revitalization of Undergraduate Education in Canada, they provided specific recommendations to expand learning methods “including interactive and participatory methods, not only across courses but within courses”  [Kaznowska et al. 2011, 8], suggesting that increased blended delivery of courses would be welcome. Indeed, online learning policy statements such as the Ministry report tend to resonate with and echo student-centred modes of engagement that posit the student as a kind of consumer, wherein the value that the student sees in their education can be measured, defined and manipulated in the context of an objective, logical-positivist world-view [Woodall et al. 2014, 52]. This view would suggest that by universities increasing digital resources and participatory methods of pedagogy such as blended learning courses (which students are already requesting), students should respond by increased perceptions of educational value and interest in measurable, deliverable ways. Despite this, one of the few studies available on Canadian student attitudes toward online learning shows a far more contradictory and confused response to the increase in online resources and traditional forms of online engagement such as discussion boards. In the report The State of E-Learning in Canadian Universities, 2011: If Students are Digital Natives, Why Don’t they Like E-Learning? the authors conclude,

If students do not — as the foregoing pages have demonstrated — think very much of blended learning, why do they want more electronic resources? [...] the best explanation seems to have to do with convenience. Students prefer physical texts, but they’d like to have the option of having an e-resource to read it wherever and whenever they need.  [Kaznowska et al. 2011, 15–16]

Students in the study repeatedly suggested more availability of online resources, in particular electronic versions of course readings, lecture notes and audio or video versions of lectures, yet they resisted interactive forums and discussion boards with instructors and fellow students and live streams of lectures [Kaznowska et al. 2011, 15]. Despite the articulated student desire for more resources to be made available electronically, students in the study who were in largely online courses were less likely to agree with the statement “I find courses with more online resources generally more interesting than courses with fewer online resources” than similar students who were in courses with fewer online resources [Kaznowska et al. 2011, 12]. Though students want the convenience of the online material, providing more resources results in the course being less interesting [Kaznowska et al. 2011, 12–13] and in students being more likely to skip classes [Kaznowska et al. 2011, 14]. Perhaps one of the most illuminating aspects of the study for the sessional instructor is that students note that entirely in-person delivery is best for evaluating the quality of instructors. 67.3% of students found that an instructor’s quality is best gauged face to face, while only 4.5% believed entirely or partially online courses allow students to assess an instructor’s quality [Kaznowska et al. 2011, 14]. This last point is particularly noteworthy for sessional instructors as it acts as a disincentive for sessionals to engage with online learning and pedagogy, which then puts them at odds with the policy of increasing student engagement through increasing online learning opportunities.
The policy suggestion made by the Ministry report and by similar papers tabled by think tanks and government bodies across the world [ECORYS UK 2016, 5–7] [FELTAG 2014, 6, 9] [Australian Core Skills 2016] is a call for increased efficiency and deliverable success. As Milliken and Barnes note, this appeal is itself nothing new.

John Amos Cornelius, a 16th Century scholar, spoke of the need for a methodology whereby “teachers teach less but learners learn more.” Two centuries later, in 1780, Adam Smith stated that the discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the ease of the masters. Both views would indicate that current complaints have noble pedigrees.  [Milliken and Barnes 2002, 224]

The result of these most recent calls for deliverable results for instructors has been that universities have increasingly downloaded responsibility for technological competence onto faculty and non-faculty instructors. The problem is one of funding. Most institutions across North America are “incorporating educational technology tools, such as SMART Boards, starboards, iPads, collaboration tools, WebCT, and so forth, into classrooms in order to improve the quality of education for learners; and educators are expected to fully integrate those tools as soon as the technology becomes available. Most institutions have limited funding available only to train full-time faculty on how to integrate technology into their classroom”  [Mosley 2014, 25]. This set of policies that are being developed and implemented across North America, though they make universities more efficient by asking more of faculty while providing them with fewer resources in which to achieve intended educational targets, when put into discussion with the permanent rise of the sessional instructor and the movement towards online course delivery, has a number of unintended consequences. To explore those unintended consequences, I want to focus my discussion on the creation and implementation of my recent blended learning class at Wilfrid Laurier University, English 245 “The English Literary Tradition, Beginnings to 1660.”

Devising the Course

In the fall semester of 2015, I was hired as contract academic staff at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of English and Film Studies to teach the half-credit foundation course EN245. This was the first time I taught the course and the first time that the course had ever been offered in a blended learning format. The course is a junior undergraduate canonical literary history course, covering the breadth of literature from Beowulf to Milton, though there is some room for experimentation regarding the interpretation of the canon as taught to undergraduates. For instance, I taught Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, who wrote the first post-classical drama in Europe, even though she is criminally understudied in junior undergraduate survey courses. Every English student at Wilfrid Laurier is obliged to take EN245 and its companion course EN246 (1660 to Today) as part of their degree requirements, which in practice means that the class is usually one of the most well-populated in the department, with students who are motivated to succeed.
For the first time in the history of the course, I chose to offer EN245 as a blended-learning, flipped classroom, where all of the “lecture material” was available online and the classroom meetings would be devoted to exercises and discussions of the texts and the “lectures.” The hosting of materials online, accessible in part through a gated course management system, is in keeping with blended best practices, such as those outlined by Michael Munger [Munger 2016] [Koh 2015]. I say “lectures” because the material that I created for the students to consider was multimodal. I created text for them to read and consider, audio lectures for them to listen to, as well as video material that I created using CyberLink PowerDirector, a fairly common video editing software suite. By obligation, all of the material was hosted on the WLU MyLearningSpace website, which is a Desire2Learn based content delivery system. Video lecture material was (and is) hosted on YouTube for ease of access. Major assignments such as a final paper were workshopped during in class tutorial sessions, while minor assignments, which included the creation of a timeline using Knight Lab’s free timeline creation website, were created as digital entities. The flipped classroom, blended-learning style of course delivery has repeatedly been shown to have positive results in terms of student retention and long term recall, however, it also normally requires an intense period of preparatory work in consultation with educational and media experts in order to develop the course in accordance with best practices. Lecture material must be written, rewritten, and edited; film must be shot, reshot, and edited; audio must be recorded, again and again; each phase of the process should (ideally) be thought through in terms of the deliverable educational goals. In many ways, the amount of cooperative effort that ought to go into such a flipped classroom course should be primarily done before the course has even begun and should be effectively invisible to students. Such a model of course creation, however, is primarily geared towards tenured or tenure-track instructors who have the time to prepare courses in cooperation with multiple institutions within the home university. Such a period of preparation and careful consideration is not possible for sessional instructors and was not available in the case of EN245.
Sessionals are often unable to access the digital infrastructure of the university outside of the term of their contract. Marie Vander Kloet, speaking at the workshop leading to the AUCC report on Revitalizing Undergraduate Education in Canada posed the problem of sessional access to digital infrastructure succinctly,

I can’t access the library system at the university until the first day of my contract, which is typically six days before I start teaching. So I can’t set up my own course website. I can’t figure out what I could potentially put online. I can’t activate my e-mail address … I know there are huge financial constraints in terms of why there are so many contract faculty [...] but there are material conditions around those contracts which severely impact how it’s possible for us to teach.  [AUCC 2011, 5]

Sessional instructors face restrictions and lack of access to resources (in terms of time, access to technical support, professional development, communities of practice, and access to administration) in comparison to our tenure-track colleagues that can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. Even where technical support is available for sessional faculty, it may not be feasible for sessional instructors to seek out such support. This is in keeping with Ocak’s study, which indicated that 17.26% of faculty felt they had no support from the institution [Ocak 2011, 691]. In my case, university administration and the Office of Open Learning were basically unaware of what I was doing until halfway through the course. This was partially because of the time constraints that are a regular part of the teaching conditions of adjunct instructors. That is, I was awarded EN245 in mid-July 2015 with a start date of the first week of September 2015. Thus, if I had followed the intensely cooperative model of blended learning, flipped classroom delivery outlined above, I would have had only six or seven weeks in which to create an entire course and coordinate with at least three or four different institutional bodies. However little time that may be, I also had another time commitment between mid-July and early August. Between those dates I was teaching an intensive, all day, three week seminar on Shakespeare’s Text at the Stratford Festival, which meant that the amount of actual time I had to prepare to deliver a semester of material for a flipped classroom was approximately three weeks. To arrange for meetings with the Office of Open Learning, who would then arrange for further meetings with on-staff videographers and recording technicians, as well as developing an oversight committee for content delivery was simply not feasible if the course was to be delivered on time and on budget. As an educational entrepreneur, I had to act on my own, using those limited resources that were available to me, or face the possibility of breaking my contract with WLU. This gave me an incredible amount of freedom in terms of course creation, but it also cut me off from access to monies and resources that would have facilitated even some of the more basic elements of the course.
One of the key elements of the course that students responded to positively were the video components, which were available on YouTube. For each “lecture,” approximately 20-30 minutes worth of somewhat dense video material was made available online. The practices for online lectures created by MIT, Yale, and Oxford tends to be to record a professor delivering a lecture. The advantage to this is that the professor’s face and body do not need to be copyright protected and the material shared in the classroom that might be copyright protected (images or film clips) can be edited out or held behind a gated entry point for the course. The talking head, however, is a woefully ineffective way of using the visual medium to the best of its abilities or providing a record of the teaching abilities of professors who are some of the best teachers in the world. The Open University presents a far more instructional model for anyone wishing to create online videos.[3] The Open University’s model of creation, however, is based on the cooperative model whereby experts from multiple fields (videography, animation, acting, editing, academic subject) come together to create a single educational instrument.
As time constraints prevented me from using the cooperative model that has been so successful for The Open University, I created all of the educational instruments for my course by myself. Rather than develop a video style that would be unique to the course, or which would reveal my limited graphic design capabilities, I developed the video style for my course using the documentaries of Ken Burns as a template, extensively using still images and panning camera shots. Not being a filmmaker, I had to learn on the spot such techniques as editing, design, pacing, sound mixing, etc. The following is an example of a video lecture where I tried to use the medium to the best of my ability in the period allowed. This is from my lectures on The Second Shepherds’ Play: 10.13 - Social Order in the Second Shepherds’ Play. These videos[4] have been viewed literally thousands of times from locations on almost every continent in the few months they have been available online. Indeed, one video on Lady Mary Wroth is directed “viewing” in a course on British Literature in Brazil while the video on Liturgical Drama in the early middle ages is a course text at Berkeley Divinity School in California.[5]
The advantages of YouTube are precisely the wide audience and the flexibility of production. Throughout the course I tried to bring in as many open-access educational tools as I could, partially because, as I just described, I had to work without access to the resources available through the administration, and partially because I felt that students may respond more positively to open access tools like Google Drive, Timeline by Knight Lab, and WordPress than they would to D2L. My hypothesis was confirmed. From private interviews with students I conducted after the class was over, one of the primary reasons why students responded well to the video material was that it was available on YouTube.[6] Logging into the Wilfrid Laurier University’s D2L system was a disincentive compared to going to YouTube, which students described as more native to their experience of the world. In using free tools and software like YouTube, EN245 was building “student experience” — a recommendation of reports like the AUCC report on Revitalizing Undergraduate Education in Canada cited above — upon students’ understanding of the digital world; providing difference (or content) within an architecture of familiarity.
EN245 highlighted many of the problems faced by adjunct instructors who seek to implement best practices of pedagogy and digital pedagogy. The model of corporate creation that would be ideal in the development of a new online or partially online course is largely out of reach for sessional and adjunct instructors. The proprietary tools and software, as well as the skills of university based full time assistants such as videographers and teaching support services, are effectively cut off from the instructor who has a mandate to produce a course almost overnight. At the same time as instructors are being isolated from administrative support to create online material, policy documents, like the one issued by the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, encourage educational entrepreneurship and the creation of online or partially online material to develop “student experience.” A sessional instructor can take the challenge on alone, as I did, but this poses an interesting question that I will develop in the next section, namely “Who holds copyright over the material produced for the course?” Whereas wholly online courses are usually governed by contracts that state which party (university or instructor) has copyright and responsibility for the material, courses like the one I just outlined are exercises in guerilla pedagogy and the ownership of copyright is not wholly clear.

Copyright, Adjuncts, and Intellectual Property Policy

In 2008, Douglas Kranch in The Quarterly Review of Distance Education described the case of Harvard Law School’s Arthur Miller. Miller created an online course (ironically, on civil procedure and intellectual property rights) for an institution other than his home, Harvard Law School, arguing that there was no difference in publishing his course in another university’s online environment than the “book publishing deals he had been negotiating for many years”  [Kranch 2008, 349]. While Kranch notes that although there are several precedents in the United States for universities or employers to hold copyright or patent rights for research done by members of that institution, one of the only instances of case law regarding a professor’s property rights over his course notes actually found in favour of the professor. In that case, a professor Williams developed material at UCLA and then moved universities. UCLA went on to publish Williams’ materials, arguing that “Williams’ notes were work for hire so that UCLA held the rights to the notes”  [Kranch 2008, 350–351]. The Supreme Court of California found for Williams, arguing that

If UCLA owned the copyright, it could prevent Williams from using the notes he created at the next post and, by extension, would similarly block all faculty from using their instructional material at any but the institutions at which they had created them; and second, that UCLA had exerted little supervisory control over Williams.  [Kranch 2008, 351]

This legal decision became the basis for the teacher exception to the work for hire provisions of copyright protection under American law.[7] Such a victory for individual intellectual property rights has not been without dissenting voices however and it is the position of The Association of American Universities that “the university should own the intellectual property that is created at the university by faculty, research staff, and scientists with the substantial aid of its facilities or financial support”  [Kranch 2008, 352].[8] Different universities will, likewise, claim different amounts of copyright control over materials created for online use depending upon policies local to institutions, faculties, and even departments, yet such claims are often negotiated through the context of a legally binding contract between instructor and institution [Masson 2010, 258]. Courses like EN245, however, render such statements and policies of university ownership all the more problematic as the course was created entirely without university support, substantial aid, facilities, or material. The course was blended and flipped, not wholly online. It was partially hosted on YouTube, a publicly available platform, as the proprietary software of the institution was seen as alien to students’ experiences.[9] Indeed, whereas university administrations may argue some claim to ownership over course notes if the institution provided necessary, material support, the advent of free online tools are increasingly rendering such support wholly unnecessary.
Today, many of the tools that are sufficient for the creation of a successful online or partially online course are freely available, while many of the courses that teach instructors how to use those tools for pedagogical purposes are either hidden behind institutional walls or enrollment can cost hundreds of dollars. For example, the Digital Pedagogy Lab, while providing content that has been praised by the Chronicle of Higher Education, has courses on teaching with Twitter that cost US$400, (though a discount for contingent faculty is available). Whether those tools are generalist — iTunesU, Zotero, YouTube — or specialist — Google NGram, the Map of Early Modern London, Internet Shakespeare Editions — these tools problematize the relationship between the instructor and the university insofar as universities tend to use proprietary systems (e.g. Desire2Learn) for everything, including data management, presentation, communication, and gradebook integration with the registrar’s office. Universities, in insisting on using these proprietary systems for every aspect of course delivery from gradebook integration to content presentation, provide adjunct or sessional instructors with a central set of educational technology tools (thereby providing the material support that some might argue is the way around the teacher exception to the work for hire provisions of copyright law). These university mandated tools can be used again and again, thereby, in theory, reducing the struggle adjuncts face in choosing what tools to use, which is a common complaint among adjunct instructors.
Such limitations on choice as presented by the use of proprietary systems by universities do not act as “walled gardens” or “safe havens” in a landscape dominated by monopolistic social and traditional media corporations. It is certainly true that some free tools, as opposed to the proprietary systems, are extensions of large media corporations, such as Google, Apple, and Facebook, whose commoditization of information is cause for suspicion. Nevertheless, many universities are already working with these same corporations on exclusive contracts to deliver email and other services. Thus, the distinction between freely available tools and proprietary systems is beginning to blur. Even in cases where the software systems used by universities are industry specific to the academy rather than an outgrowth of large media corporations, the university cannot be seen as a kind of walled garden. Corporations like Blackboard, 2U, D2L, and TurnItIn, are either publicly traded companies or companies owned by venture capital partnerships [Blackboard 2017] [Investors 2017] [About Us 2017] [Acquisition 2014]. Issues of privacy aside, these technologies integrate the university into a corporate ecosystem that extends well beyond the walls of the academy. Further, universities’ training and support for these technologies can only be offered economically to those who can be reasonably expected to use the technology again in the future; that is, tenure track and longer term faculty, as outlined above.
On the one hand, tenure track and longer term professors who wish to implement a course with a heavy digital component are strongly encouraged to work within the confines of the university’s own digital infrastructure to protect and justify the university’s investment in that infrastructure and to tie the course material to that university. This means heavily relying upon administration to provide support, but such support also comes with a clear demarcation of the rights and responsibilities of intellectual property. A university may house a digital document created by a professor, but unless otherwise stated by written policy of the institution or a contract between the institution and the instructor, the university does not necessarily own that material. The digital document may, in some ways, represent the university publicly and, as such, the university may wish to have some say in the delivery of content or the content itself. This last issue is a particular problem for any course that is remotely politically “controversial” such as gender/race studies, environmental studies, or even evolution, especially in a higher education funding environment where, in Canada for instance we are still recovering from the ideologically bound funding models of the Harper Conservative government [Canadian Government 2015].[10] Tenure track and longer term professors who reject this support are still incentivized to work with and learn the proprietary knowledge mobilization and administration systems because they will encounter these programs next semester and the one after that. A circumscribed digital infrastructure, such as a university that uses D2L encourages at least familiarity with D2L among its faculty. Moreover, as tenure track and longer term professors have an ongoing relationship with the university in question, the rules they establish with the university regarding intellectual property can be revised on an ongoing basis. Both parties have institutionalized obligations to each other and to the digital content that can be revised through mechanisms within the institution.
On the other hand, sessional instructors who wish to implement a course with a heavy digital component can choose to work within a given university’s digital infrastructure yet we are disincentivized to do so on a number of different levels.
  1. Access to the support required to become experts in these tools is limited and taken on at the instructor’s cost; and,
  2. Ownership of intellectual property created outside of institutional software structures and administrative support is more likely to lay with the instructor.
Professional development opportunities are restricted university by university and, although computer literacy is a fairly common skill, effectively translating that skill into the creation of an active learning environment requires training [Al–Busaidi and Al–Shihi 2012, 18ff] [Buchanan et al. 2013, 5] [Georgina and Hosford 2009, 693]. Whereas to become an expert in the use of D2L one must first have access to a D2L course and, by then, it is already too late because the course has to be put up. On the other hand, one can spend the hours needed to become an expert on how to use YouTube or even the Map of Early Modern London because of their accessibility, on your own time and in some cases these tools further your research. Sessional instructors are disincentivized to learn proprietary software systems because one semester we could be working at one university that uses one system, and another semester we could be working at another university with another content delivery system. Far easier to use freely available tools that students feel comfortable with and fit into their own experience of media than to learn new integrated systems over and over and over again at new universities and never be paid for that labour. More importantly, however, there is less fear that the course notes and materials created through freeware and freely accessible systems will be claimed by the university as their intellectual property. The one fear is that, with the proliferation of digital course materials, students will cease to be as interested in the course, skip more, and have less of a basis upon which to judge the effectiveness of the instructor [Kaznowska et al. 2011].
In effect, the closed digital architecture of universities, combined with the increasing reliance on sessional instructors to deliver course material, is further reinforcing the divide between tenure-track and non-TT faculty. As problematic as that effect may be, with its attendant class divide between the two tiers of faculty, this is not intended to be a paper crying “Vanitas vanitatum.” It is an important point; it is further developing a painfully unjust system within the academy; but this paper is trying to use inductive reasoning to illuminate the ways in which policy governs the academy based on one particular experience. What I can observe is that digital or partially digital courses created out of freely available tools where the content of the course is based on canonical texts or, as the Ministry of Education puts it, “fundamentals” … these courses are incredibly portable. If the course is conservative in its approach to the canon (whether that be the canon of English literature or the fundamentals of algebra), the course can be put on in Calgary or Qatar, it doesn’t matter. This isn’t itself surprising as it was the original insight behind the development of MOOCs. I would like to suggest, however, what if the course notes and materials are not tied to a university? What if the course is tied to the instructor, who is unshackled from the digital infrastructure of any given university?
Sessional instructors, in a case such as the one I have described, own their material in a way that tenure-track colleagues do not. We own our materials in a way that those who teach through MOOCs, EdX, Coursera or other large capitalist experiments in education do not, as they are governed by contracts that echo the terms of proprietary university contracts outlined above. We are not protected by tenure from administrative over-reach, but we are not tied to an individual administration’s digital infrastructure either. We can (and do) move from university to university, selling our course as an educational product; a product that has a proven track record at other universities; a product that has clearly defined goals and deliverables; a single product that is cheaper than maintaining a tenure-track professor, a videographer, an audio technician, an office filled with “experts” in online learning.
Of course, this doesn’t happen right now. A sessional instructor can create an entire course using freely available online tools, at minimal cost and reaching a tremendously large and diverse audience, yet cannot then market that course to any given university as an educational product. It’s just not done because the model of academic intellectual property for course delivery is predicated on the relationship between the static tenure track or longer term professor and the university, rather than the portable adjunct and multiple universities offering similar courses. At the present moment, the sessional instructor and the course are both subject to the curriculum of an individual university and department, despite the fact that core canon courses tend towards portability, interoperability, and modularity that renders such boundaries largely incoherent. Though there are attempts to provide funding for courses that will bridge interuniversity boundaries such as the $4.5 million put forward by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities as a part of the eCampus Ontario initiative, such funding models largely exclude the sessional instructor, who cannot apply for funding as an “educational entrepreneur.” I tried to apply for funding to develop this course further, using the portable model I have suggested, but I was told that I had to work within the confines of a university administration to develop a proposal. I approached WLU, yet what they proposed instead was a course delivered concurrently at multiple universities (where I would be paid the same amount as if I was at the one) delivered entirely through the digital infrastructure that could be shared among those universities, which rather misses the point.
I worry that DH tends to get caught up in the discussion of new tools, new gadgets, new theories, while there tends not to be the same concern for the policy that flows out of and controls the implementation of these new tools. I always tell my students when approaching a new text to ask yourself Cui bono? (Who benefits?) because the answer is usually not what it seems to be on the surface. Though for the past twenty years the digital revolution in humanities studies has become increasingly entrenched in the academy with the creation of journals, conferences and a number of tenure track and long term professorships, the rise of free digital tools combined with the concretization of the sessional instructor as a permanent caste within the academy, recontextualizes the efficiency of pedagogical labour onto the sessional instructor. If, as the rhetoric of entrepreneurship suggests, public policy in higher education is moving towards a logical-positivist model based on deliverables and efficiency, then I wonder if we are not actually liable to be turning the clock back to the medieval system of itinerant scholars. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Let’s not forget, Erasmus, Vives, Aquinas, Scotus, Abelard, and many others great scholars were itinerants or went through a period of employment induced mobility. The difference today is that whereas Abelard had to be in the same room as you to teach you, geography no longer matters in the same way to us. We, the itinerant scholars of today, can put together a course on relatively conservative canonical material, and sell it to the highest bidder as an educational product guaranteed to get certain results. By disentangling the course from the digital architecture of a single university, student experience and student education can be standardized across multiple universities in a way that simply is not possible in a system that privileges the institutional power of the university itself.
I come at this problem as someone who both is and is not what Allington, Brouilette and Golumbia called a “builder and maker, [an] adept at the management and visualization of data, and [one able] conceive of the study of literature as now fundamentally about the promotion of new technologies”  [Allington et al. 2016]. As technologies and archives become increasingly available, scholars like me, wandering from job to job, will become increasingly a part of the university landscape. This decentralization of pedagogy, enabled through free tools and the ubiquity of internet access, has fundamental repercussions for the structure of the academy in terms of tenure and non-tenure academics, but also has effects that reach out into the educational experience of undergraduates around the world. Canonical disciplinary boundaries or “fundamentals” can be reinforced around the world in ways that would be unthinkable only a few generations ago, as multiple universities on multiple continents can all hire the same instructor to deliver the same “fundamental” material. I do not mean to suggest that this re-entrenching of the canon and derogation of the independence of the university should be a goal for educational policy makers. Rather, I wish to note that the present conditions of the educational marketplace favouring the use of sessionals, combined with the rise of free pedagogical tools, student desire for more digital resources, and the logical-positivism that informs government policy decisions may have certain unintended results that will reshape the way universities operate in the coming decade.
I have a course on English literature from the beginnings to 1660. It is an educational product I’m willing to lease. Who wants to open the bidding?


Please note, the numbering system refers to the day of the class, such that “10.04 Corpus Christi https://youtu.be/Q7ZaIiySFN4” refers to the 10th day of class, 4th part of the lecture, which was on Corpus Christi.


[1]  Please note, for the purposes of this paper, “sessional” and “adjunct” instructors will be used as interchangeable terms for any part-time, contract based pedagogical work.
[2]  Though there are clearly differences for individual national cases, the basic trends across Europe, Australia, and North America have followed the American model over the past twenty years, which is why American data is sourced in this instance. Many of the examples in this study are drawn from the Canadian case, as the primary case study was taught at a Canadian university. Universities in Canada and elsewhere have made it notoriously difficult to gather specific data on numbers of non-full-time instructors as well as their position within the institutions [Field et al. 2014] and the use of online learning technologies, making research in this field particularly subject to local conditions, yet still responsive to international trends. As Monks, CAUT and others point out, the general trends across Canada, Europe, Australia and Asia regarding both the employment of sessional instructors and the use of online learning are clearly tracking the American case.
[4]  For a complete list of videos created for EN245, please see the appendix.
[5]  Private emails.
[6]  Private Interview.
[7]  There has been no analogous test case in Canada, nor can I find a similar statement of clear copyright protection for course notes in Australia or in the European Union. The case is here cited for its exceptionality and for the fact that the matter still does not seem to be settled, even in the United States.
[8]  Please note that although Kranch describes a case in California, the point is that there is frustratingly little case law to guide intellectual property at all in jurisdictions across North America.
[9]  Copyright for originally created videos uploaded to YouTube is held by the creator (YouTube), yet copyright for a video created by a professor used in a classroom setting can be governed by the university’s local policies. This was one of the reasons why I created the videos and uploaded them to YouTube and only then linked to them from the course website.
[10]  Similarly in the United States at the time of writing there seems to be some government support to defund agencies like the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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