Teaching college online: getting rehired

As a part-time or adjunct faculty member, you are working on a contract by contract basis. The university is under no obligation to rehire you once the course is over. So, your goal is to be awesome enough to always be the first adjunct the department chair considers as they scan their upcoming hiring needs for the following semester.

There are two keys to getting rehired:

  1. No student complaints have reached the chair and/or hiring person.
  2. You have top-notch student reviews at the end of your course.

Avoid Student Complaints

Today’s students won’t hesitate to complain to you, and possibly higher up, if they feel they are being slighted on their education in some way. Take all complaints seriously.

How to avoid complaints (or how to be a rockstar online teacher!):

  1. Be clear on your expectations in the syllabus and assignments: include the best way for students to contact you (email, phone, Skype or ?), virtual office hours where they know they can always find you, a late-work policy, a course schedule including due dates, and links to lessons. Let students know your usual response time (same day, if possible), and whether or not you’ll be available on the weekends. Personally, any time my students contacted me, I would talk to them as quickly as possible, and I also provided them my personal cell. I rarely received calls, but it’s the feeling of getting personal attention that students want and it provides a sense of calm related to learning in the course to know they can reach you immediately, if needed.
  2. Make sure all links in course materials function, videos play, and documents are uploaded. Ensure dates are correct (especially if the course has been copied over from a prior semester).
  3. If you are building the curriculum, avoid tests (I could talk for hours about this one!) and instead require projects or other forms of applied learning where students get to build, create, do, analyze, compare and share. Also offer a choice of assignments (at least two) per concept. Student choice is proven to be one of the most important factors in engaging student learning. They love DOING and SHOWCASING their work for others to see. So build/create, then share the work in a discussion forum, in their blog, in social media, etc., and incorporate peer feedback requirements so they are engaging and learning with each other.
  4. Be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage. No one really likes the aloof, elite, all-knowing professor who is a hard-ass and makes you write summaries of papers each week. At the other end of the spectrum, most students will take advantage of the soft professor who’s always sweet, forgiving, “no worries,” etc. That’s just human nature. Be the guide, show you care about their learning , that you get being an adult learner can be tough as they are often working and caring for children, but also hold your standards. State your expectations and hold to them without being mean or angry about it. Make accommodations in emergencies. If you get a request for an Incomplete, talk to the chair about the department policy.
  5. In the very first lesson, introduce yourself to your students with an informal video shot with your cell phone, if needed. It feels personal and creates connection. It’s much harder to get angry with someone who is showing up on video to connect with you versus a professor who only communicates with written text. Give an overview of the class, explain briefly what they’ll learn, do, skills they’ll develop. Share an enthusiasm for the course and the opportunity to learn with and from your students. Be genuine. Ask students to submit their own introduction, let them be creative…a video, a multimedia collage, a poem, whatever works. Encourage them to share what they hope to learn in the course…this gives you valuable information to potentially customize lessons later in the course–it’s never too late to add options to an online curriculum!! I also created a video introduction to each weekly module, short and sweet. It was my job to guide them through the course, and the use of video helped set the tone each week.
  6. Finally, tell students in your syllabus and in your introduction that your top priority in this course is their success–you want them to be successful. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve used that phrase with my own students, “My job is to make sure you are successful. So let’s figure out how we can do it.” Ask them to reach out to you directly if they have a problem or complaint about the course, and guarantee you will respond fairly and quickly.

Handle Student Complaints

Oh crud, it happened. A student has complained to you or your department chair. It can be very disheartening when you’ve received a complaint. Depending on the nature of the complaint, it can be handled in several ways:

  1. Student has been harassed (verbally, sexually, in any way!): Report this to your chair immediately, and follow up with the appropriate division on campus, student services, HR, etc.
  2. Online course isn’t working: Nothing is more frustrating that being unable to access an online course or materials when you have the time to work on it. You will lose students if this is a recurring problem, even if you didn’t cause it! If the fix is in your control, fix it immediately and let the student(s) know. Encourage students to report broken links, etc. Help create the “hey, we’re in this together” feeling.  If the fix isn’t in your control, report it to your chair and/or IT as soon as possible. Keep your students updated on your actions, and any timelines to getting a fix. Give them a workaround, if possible or needed. For example, put the assignment in Google docs, and send it out using a URL. Keep people from feeling interrupted in their work.
  3. Grade isn’t fair: I use rubrics (there are many online rubric makers) for most of my assignments, and give very clear criteria for what I’m looking for (and usually encourage students to build the rubric with me on complex projects). The grade should never be a surprise. I often ask students to self-assess their assignment using the rubric prior to submitting. Then I can see where we agree or disagree. I have given Cs, Ds, and Fs, but those are very rare with graduate students (more often seen with undergrad), and the grade would never be a surprise. My students always know exactly how to earn an “A,” and I’m willing to work with them to get there if they want to put in the effort.
  4. Curriculum or professor is boring: First, if a professor is called “boring,” it means you are lecturing too much. No one like sitting and listening to a talking head for 30 minutes, much less an hour. Shift away from lecture and focus on using some of the above strategies in curriculum design to 1) create visual engagement in your curriculum by varying multimedia, including pictures, embedding media that prompts student interaction such as Voki (if you have design control), and 2) create learning engagement through applied learning activities where students do/build/create and share, use peer feedback, and offer a choice of assignments. This one feature alone can win over a class that is used to traditional lecture and tests. Finally, if your class is fully asynchronous, add some synchronous options where students can login, share their work, discuss concepts more in-depth, etc. 

To learn more…

book cover

This blog is fifth in a five part series to help you get focused on finding a job teaching college part-time online.

If you’re looking for additional tips with finding and landing online teaching jobs, get a free digital copy of my book, Find Online Teaching Jobs Now! College Edition, through April 24th, 2017 at Amazon!

Pay and copyright for online teachers

Teaching college online part-time varies greatly across institutions. Courses can range from 6 to 8 weeks, or up to 16 weeks long. You may or may not have to design the online curriculum, and possibly give up copyright. You may have 10 students or you may have 100. All of these variables should come into your early discussions around job expectations, and help you determine whether the pay is worth your time.

In general:

  • Part-time teaching: typical pay can range from $1,500 – $5,000 per class, $2,500 around average. You will be hired as an independent contractor.
  • Full-time teaching: Pay and benefits should be the same as a regular job in the field, you’ll be hired as an employee.
  • Are you teaching someone else’s curriculum or designing your own?
  • If designing your own, ask if there is development money to support your work and who owns copyright.

You can see you’re probably not going to get rich teaching part-time online at the higher ed level. Typically, it serves as a supplemental income. As soon as you go full-time, the pay and benefits should be the same as the regular teaching job in your industry. You may ask yourself, why would anyone work for so little money over a potential 15-16 week period? Freedom, my friend, freedom to work from home, work at a time that meets your needs, and develop that work-life balance. And supplemental income is good! If you teach multiple sections of the same course, the workload becomes easier, and your revenue potential increases.

The pay varies widely in online teaching–this is often due to the online curriculum itself–if you have to create your own, the pay is usually more. So the first aspect you need to consider when you’re teaching online is if you are teaching someone else’s curriculum or are you designing your own. At large online universities, you are most likely teaching a canned curriculum that they want taught consistently among all courses in order to meet standards for accreditation. You wouldn’t be responsible for developing lessons or materials, in this case. For some online teachers, this is a wonderful thing. For others who enjoy that aspect of teaching, this may be a deciding factor in whether or not you want to teach for that institution. I always design my own curriculum, and wouldn’t want to work where I had to teach a canned curriculum. But again, this is my personal preference.

At other institutions and state universities where they may only need one course taught, or they are putting a few new courses online, you may be asked to build the content. There are many hours involved in curriculum design in addition to the day-to-day teaching and interaction with your students, and you’ll need some basic comfort with creating online lessons, embedding graphics and video, using a variety of apps to make the content feel “alive,” as well as engaging and interactive. Knowing some basic principles of graphic design are essential. 

Typically, when you have to design your own curriculum, there’s development money that goes along with that, not always, but sometimes. It’s not considered inappropriate or unprofessional to ask about curriculum design stipends in addition to the teaching stipend. I’ve often been offered development money to design courses in addition to the teaching salary.

Copyright – Who Owns the Curriculum Design?

If you’re creating online lessons, multimedia tutorials, graphics, etc., you need to know who owns the copyright to that material, and that becomes critical, because whomever owns the copyright gets to keep it. So if a university agrees to pay you $2,000 to build a curriculum and they own the copyright, that means you can never use or sell that content again without their permission (and they usually don’t give permission).

For example, let’s say you get a job teaching part-time at Amazing University, and you develop an online course for freshman History 101, but assign copyright to the university. You create all these great multimedia tutorials, interactive assignments, and lessons, and then that course ends up being taught again and again and again, but by other instructors as well, because they need more than just one instructor to teach History 101, or because they don’t want hire you back again. The University maintains the right to take those materials and use them in any way, shape or form with any instructors they wish without compensating you, and you lose the right to take those materials and teach them at any other university. It might be worth it to you if the pay is high enough.

I advise all curriculum designers to own, or at least share, copyright on their work with their employer. Typically when you’re a university employee, whatever you do on university time belongs to the university, unless their Intellectual Property policy states otherwise (many universities make exceptions that online curriculum design belongs to the faculty member). So that distinction needs to be clear and there actually needs to be a discussion and written agreement upfront as to who owns those materials. An email confirmation is ok, something listed on your contract is better.

Leveraging Your Curriculum Design

One strategy for leveraging your course design is to resell that content and/or teach it at multiple institutions. If you find one institution that wants to hire you to teach a specific course (or you can interest them in a new elective on a “hot topic” where you are the expert), work to maintain copyright on that course, don’t sign any “non-compete” agreements, and then sell and/or teach that course at multiple institutions. There is nothing unethical about this approach, it is business, so take your agreements seriously, and make sure everything is in writing. If you just assume you can resell your content, and you end up violating a copyright agreement, you will harm your reputation, lose a teaching job, and possibly end up receiving a cease and desist notification from the university’s general counsel (attorney).  So play it safe, and know your rights up front! 

Proposing a “hot topic” elective course to your interviewer (if it’s a department chair) will always be of interest. Chairs need student enrollments. The worst that can happen is you’ve planted a seed for them to consider, so don’t take a “no” personally or as the final word.

Tip: Toward the end of your first interview with the potential employer, ask questions around job expectations if the employer doesn’t provide the information up front. What period of time is the course? How many times a week are you expected to login? Average number of enrolled students? What is turnaround time for getting back to students? Will you design the curriculum, and if so, what is the additional compensation and do you retain copyright? Is there a flat rate compensation or is it a per-student fee model?

I’m curious to hear about your experiences with curriculum design, copyright and adjunct instructor pay, please share!

Want to learn more?

book cover

This blog is fourth in a five part series to help you get focused on finding a job teaching college part-time online.

If you’re looking for additional tips with finding and landing online teaching jobs, get a free digital copy of my book, Find Online Teaching Jobs Now! College Edition, through April 24th, 2017 at Amazon!

How to find college online teaching jobs and make initial contact

pexels-photo-306534.jpegHere are four strategies for finding online teaching jobs. Although these strategies are mainly for college level positions, these might be useful if you are looking for K-12 online teaching jobs, as well.

Strategy 1:  Great sites for job leads

If you’re looking for a job in higher education, you’ll want to visit the job section (Vitae) of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Not familiar with the Chronicle? It’s a news journal for higher education, and every single teaching job I’ve ever seen in any university throughout the United States, and many international jobs, are posted on the Chronicle. This includes online teaching jobs for adjuncts, part-time and full-time.  Their search engine is fairly advanced and you can customize your searches, save them, and set up automatic email notifications. Narrow down your searches with keywords such as “remote,” “virtual,” and “online.”

Other search tools you can use that include jobs for university online faculty include:

  • HigherEd Jobs (an emerging new favorite of mine, love the easy way to pull up “online” jobs, but their sorting capability is still somewhat limited)
  • Indeed
  • Flex Jobs
  • EdJoin (mainly K-12, but some tutoring jobs, etc.)

Strategy 2:  Identify college programs where you want to work

Open your mind about potential employers. Ninety eight percent of universities and colleges offer online courses! They all need qualified adjunct instructors, and the majority of those work online from home.

Start a list (create a spreadsheet in Google Sheets, and track my information in columns).

  1. Think about all the local colleges and universities around you. Write down their names in a column.
  2. Think about all the universities in your state and around the country that offer degrees in your content area of specialization. Do a Google search, such as “Math undergraduate degrees,” and see who comes up. You could also search with the qualifier “online” if you’re interested in teaching for fully online programs. Add these universities to your list.
  3. There are also major online universities with strong reputations where you might consider applying: Penn State World Campus, University of Maryland Online, Capella University, University of Phoenix, National University, Walden University, Full Sail University and Western Governers University. Add these to your list. Personally, I would avoid unaccredited for-profit universities, as they make your resume look weaker to accredited institutions.

After you’ve collected names of programs where you’d be willing to work, begin to look at their website. Make sure they offer a degree program in your area of specialization. If so, write down the exact names of the degrees you’re interested in teaching in a second column on your list. Now you’re ready to identify the key decision maker and make outreach!

Strategy 3:  Identify key decision makers

It’s fairly appropriate protocol to call or email potential employers who might not have jobs advertised. I actually got my an adjunct position at Boise State University that way, and later went on to accept a tenured track line and become department chair. I have also hired many people because they contacted me at the right time when I had an opening, and it was an easier solution than searching back through old resumes. Timing is essential! 

Key tip

Take the time to find out who actually does the hiring of adjunct faculty in the department (this may be hard to do at private online universities where they don’t show program faculty, easier to do at state universities). It’s usually the program chair, or an associate chair, if the program is large. You can easily call the department office (not HR), and explain you are interested in an adjunct position, and ask whom should you contact. Make sure to get an email address for that specific person, and address them by name in your email contact. A department chair will always pay more attention to, and remember, email received directly versus being sent over from HR or forwarded from the Dean of the College. You want to make an impression in their memory….if you reach out during a non-hiring period, they may end up calling you a few months down the road when they’re getting the new course schedule together.

You think this type of outreach is a needle in a haystack, in actuality, it’s not. Department chairs of higher education are often at the mercy of needing adjunct instructors at the last minute, because new sections of courses get added when there are enrollment overloads. Even if you aren’t a regular adjunct for that program, you can be called in a pinch if you are on the mind of the person doing the hiring.

Strategy 4: Make personalized contact

  • Send an introductory email directly to the Chair or Director of the program with a resume attached – make sure your contact is made with the person directly responsible for hiring. This isn’t usually Human Resources.
  • Don’t create an additional letter of introduction, just introduce yourself in the email itself.
  • Personalize the email heading, “Edtech adjunct position at Penn State,” seems very specific and more important than if the chair gets a generic email they may not read.
  • Use their title and name, “Dear Dr. Jones,” in the salutation.
  • Keep it brief on initial contact, indicating your interest, background, and availability. Show you have done your homework about their particular program. Mention what degree you are interested in teaching in, and any courses in that degree program you feel qualified to teach.
  • Include a link to your online teaching portfolio in the email, and attach your resume directly to the email.
  • Say “I am happy to provide references upon request.” Drop names directly in the email if you have connections in the same field as the program chair.
  • Don’t ask about salary, yet.

Want to learn more?

book cover

This blog is second in a five part series to help you get focused on finding a job teaching college part-time online.

If you’re looking for additional tips with finding and landing online teaching jobs, get a free digital copy of my book, Find Online Teaching Jobs Now! College Edition, through April 24th, 2017 at Amazon!