Could Online Teaching Be For You?
What is online teaching about?
Both private and public universities now have online degree programs — some were/are traditional brick and mortar institutions while others are predominantly online. If you do a search for schools to teach for online you’ll find a great many of them available. What you are doing is delivering a class in a different medium to a slightly different demographic than you might be use to. Online students are often single mothers, military personnel, older students who’ve gone as far as they can go in their careers without a degree. They are all coming to you now because they have a very specific goal in mind — to get that degree and get on with their lives. The material itself might be no different than the traditional classroom but the delivery and demographic are (the median age is 33, for example). So, flexibility is a big deal with most private schools that are marketing their institutions as those that can work with adults going back to school.
Why teach online?
Why not is more like it. I started this because I had two small children who were preschool age and I didn't want to leave them in the care of strangers. Nowadays I can go on vacations like the photo indicates, and I can still check in and spend a few late nights in a motel catching up. Not that vacations happen so often but it's good to know I don't have to be tied down to specific times.
What’s should an online instructor look for in an institution?
At first they tend to all sound the same. They are paying you as an adjunct to teach for them. But realize that you do yourself and the whole adjunct world a disservice by selling yourself too cheaply. Shop around and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Most online situations are non-union. That might not sound like a big deal to you upfront but it can become an issue later. Most institutions hire and fire at will and contracts are on a term to term basis. Even so, adjuncts can develop long term relationships with institutions and get into a regular routine of teaching year round for them.
What things they should offer?
401K or retirement plan, medical insurance coverage, and advancement possibilities are a few. Most important to you should be the advancement possibilities. Some institutions do not offer anything in the way of advancement and that can make the whole gig get old fast. Tuition assistance, reimbursements for calls to students or a calling card, updated software, equipment (some require audio seminars and headphones or video conferencing), good tech support, reimbursement for conferences, subscriptions to trades in your field, and advancement based on your work in your field are often available.
What should they have in place at their institution?
You want a school that has an actual department in your field and regular department meetings. For example, I work for a school that has great instructor input. We have regular staff meetings and help shape the content and curriculum for our department which is lead by someone in our field. That might sound like a no brainer but often times online universities group their courses and departments not by the traditional Letters and Sciences model but by an arbitrary arrangement. One school I quit working for used to drive me crazy by having people whose degrees were in marketing and education in control of the English teachers. It felt like we didn't even speak the same language.
What is their schedule?
Each school will have a different schedule — not the traditional semester. One school I love working for does 4-Week intensives. You teach one class at a time at a max of six per year. Nine and six weeks courses seem to be the most common. You also need to consider what the requirements of your time will be. Some programs will have the instructor set the due dates for every assignment and leave it up to you to decide on when to grade within each week. Others are maniacal about what you do on which day. Some have synchronistic once a week seminars so everyone can touch base. Make sure that you can function within the given schedule or else it'll be a headache for you!
Big Brother vs. Autonomy Adjuncts
I think the one thing that has become the most important to me is autonomy. In a traditional setting autonomy is paramount, but online anyone can look into your classroom for any reason at any time. Find out what the policies are at the institution you are interested in. If I don't feel like I have academic freedom, I can't function in the classroom. If it doesn't bother you that people who aren't in your field are looking into your classroom and commenting on what they perceive is good or bad teaching practices, then you can be less discerning.
The Big Benefit
By and large the best thing about online teaching is actually two things. I've met some students who are truly amazing with hard knock lives that have been willing to put in the time to get their education. They struggle with lives that are far more complicated than mine was when I was going to school. I don't know how they do it. Often times I find it inspirational to be part of their education. The big benefit for me is my income isn't' tied to my local economy. Living in a rural area where unemployment is high, I find my online work to really be a life saver! With budget cuts at my local community college, it's good to have something else to depend on for income. Being an online instructor helped me stay home with my kids and has kept daycare to a minimum.
Starting your search
A good place to start is Adjunct Nation. Also Google the particular college or university you are interested in and read up on what other teachers are saying. Some are easy to start working for because they rather have you have experience in your field than teaching experience — which makes it easier to start. Questions on more specifics? Leave a comment here and I'll be happy to give you my opinion or direct you to someone I know.
Good luck on your quest to become an online instructor.
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