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The state of online teaching right now

November 17, 2008

I had the following solicitation for advice (which is always a dangerous thing. 🙂 ):

To Whom It May Concern [Piss Poor Prof]:

I have 5 plus years experience as a community college teacher. I have been trying to get into online teaching for two years. I have a master’s degree in history and have taught a number of liberal arts courses. Do you have any insights specifically in how to break into the market?

I have taken training for one online community college in Indiana called Ivytech over a year ago and they have not gotten me any assignments.
I have several applications out. My motivation is that I love to teach and provides a little extra money.

My old college where I used to work at prior to my move loved my teaching, but said that the online courses were only for full timers.

I love your blog because is has real information. If you can help, I would appreciate it and will reciprocate the favor if possible.

Also, do online schools have residency rules. I have run into this.


I will take your questions in order:

  • How does one break into the online market? Timing, luck and perseverance. Timing. Right now, with the economic doom all around, may actually be a good time to start hitting up all of the online colleges you can find. In a recession, workers head back to school. Online is the easy access option at the moment, so the online schools may be ramping up. That said, your content area will determine your options to a large extent. Schools will be slow to ramp up headcount, choosing to fill opening slots with those on hand (read, those with whom they have worked with before). It may be some time (3-6 months) before the demand prompts a wave of hiring.
  • Content area.  Online classes work on a volume basis.  Unless you work for an online college only (there are just a few), you are competing with on-ground classes (read on-ground instructors), who may choose to pick up a course or two for the extra income.   There are areas, though, where the demand almost always exceeds supply–Composition, for one.  With a high burn-out rate (reading lots of error-ridden submissions is absolutely Dante-esque in its hellishness), and low-level of professional attraction (lit people almost certainly will teach comp for a few years, but they always feel like they went to school to teach lit, not comp), and a perennial favorite of colleges to require as a core class (cash cow?), Freshman Comp teachers are in demand a lot.  You indicated you teach history, which given the nature of the content (providing a lot of context, explanation, etc.) the subject matter works against you through the online medium.  It is just not easy to teach history in an asynchronous, chat-filled environment.
  • So, you have a few obstacles (area of specialty–not readily amenable to the medium–not a core requirement which means fewer sections–entrenched teachers taking the sections).  To overcome, bring on overwhelming force: apply to each and every college you can find.  This will not be easy.  A lot of the bigger ones will not provide a link to apply.  They hide them, which I cannot fathom a good reason, so be diligent.  Aim for 40 to land one.  Be relentless.
  • I have no experience, and I can’t imagine a need for residency rules.  I have taught for both in-state colleges and for colleges across the country.  I would need more info on this one.

Hope this helps.  I will try and post some more advice on online teaching.  You may have to remind me, though.

One Comment
  1. brokeharvardgrad permalink
    December 5, 2008 4:55 am

    My advice: get out of teaching. There is no money in it. They will lure you in with the promise of income and then cancel your classes for obscure reasons. The on-line demands of faculty are outrageous. Admin might just as well say: your instructor will spoon feed you and answer your every cry. Many on-line classes are designed around the co-dependent and whiny students. For every 3 students who are decent, you will have 14 who are expecting to do less with more of your time. On-line teaching can really fall into the dregs of trying to drag “alternative ed students” through their classes. If you are not into teaching at the alternative ed centers in your high school public school district, you won’t like the on-line class structure for the pay.

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