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Online Adjuncting: student communication

August 6, 2007

A quick Google search on online communication (here is one example) will point out that when you go online, you will likely lose all social restraint. That is, online people are more willing to say more and say it more bluntly than in person. Perhaps the fear of getting smacked in the nose keeps up inline offline.

So, without the formality of the classroom, along with its inherent social rules, be prepared for a wider spectrum of discourse from your students. You might experience this to some degree with your on-ground students, but not to the online degree.

How will your online students approach you? The spectrum is wide. Some will defer just as in face-to-face, treating you with respect and grace. They are few. Treasure them.

The bulk will adopt the level of formality you present to them. Be keenly aware of this. If you wish to be relatively informal (my preferred approach), then expect that level to be the highest to which they will aspire. That is, your tone sets the upper limits. They will only go lower.

If you give out your IM name (AIM, Yahoo!, MSN, etc) you can expect a ping anytime you are one. If you wish to separate your work and personal time, do not give this out.

Also, I would recommend giving your students “office hour”-like times when you will be checking into the class (for forum questions) and e-mail. This will help level-set expectations for communication. Your students will appreciate this, only if you stick to it. Especially around assignment deadlines (which online come fast and furious). If you are not reachable, they will reach out to someone, often the online admin. This becomes a real pain really fast (more on online admin coming). Save everyone some grief and post some available times.

I would not recommend giving out your phone number. Online students work all hours. Although they will probably be apologetic, they will still call at all hours. You will not be paid enough for this level of intrusion. Also, given the relative anonymity of online communication, phone tone will be lower than you will want. I even talked to a student’s husband (told him I couldn’t talk to him). He called three times. Again, I was not paid enough for that kind of hassle. E-mail works well enough.

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3 Comments
  1. Sarah permalink
    August 7, 2007 5:26 pm

    so true about setting the tone early. I always struggle with wanting a casual tone in conversation, email and discussion but wanting true academic attempts in writing and visual presentations. My students seem to always equate firendly and laid back with low expectations….

  2. Piss Poor Prof permalink
    August 8, 2007 3:03 am

    I found better results in being strict with high expectations. It seemed to weed out the ones who didn’t want to work.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    April 29, 2008 1:53 pm

    I have taught as an adjunct in both an online in class instructor. Obviously, I’m not rolling in the cash from it. So imagine my surprise when I talked to a guy who is the head of a major corporation in the city where I live. He talked about a 6-figure supplement he was making from teaching online. I was really suspcious, calculating that he would have to teach about 60 classes a year (in addition to a full-time job and family) to make that kind of money. I mentioned my confusion and he said that over time he has found the highest paying online universities that have “not overwhelming” time committments and he’s done it that way. Do you think it’s possible?

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