How to Become an Online Professor

Curious to know how to become an online professor? Read on!

Even before the pandemic, online college courses have seen explosive growth. Many college-age students who move on campus for their education will still end up participating in online classes while enrolled. In the modern era, online education provides great flexibility for busy students who may be balancing work and other life pursuits outside of school. As a result, there are many great career opportunities for those interested in full-time or part-time employment with a higher education institution.

Online college teaching jobs: Getting that first job

What does it take to get the job? In most cases, the minimum criteria is a Master’s degree in the given discipline. This will open up the door to opportunities at both Community Colleges and Universities.

As a non-academic, a good way to start is as an adjunct or guest lecturer. Higher education institutions have to make arrangements every quarter so that the class schedule works based on student demand. Most classes are scheduled with full-time faculty members, but sometimes there are still classes that need to be filled. Therefore, having available adjunct faculty members is helpful to the schools from a scheduling perspective.  

Where you can teach: Teach at a community college

I recommend starting local. Make a list of all the two-year and four-year higher education institutions in your state. It will be more feasible to network and get hired somewhere in which you have a local connection. Also, many technical and trade schools offer general courses in subjects outside of what you may expect. So you will want to reach out to these programs as well throughout the job search process.

Where do I get started: How to become an adjunct professor online

Until you have experience, timing plays an important role in getting that first job. It is logical that most schools will first fill the schedule with full time faculty members, and then with the pool of adjunct faculty which has instructed at the school previously. But don’t let this discourage you.

Start by determining which academic department you are interested and qualified to instruct within. Then reach out to chair or director of this academic department. This may be the Chair of Business, Chair of Economics, Chair of Marketing, etc. In general, you will want to start connecting and getting advice from those in leadership roles within the given subject domain.

Put together a brief introductory email listing your background, credentials, and desire for teaching at the college level. Ask for an informational interview. Simply an opportunity to sit down and better understand the process and how one would become an instructor at the given college or university.

Once a meeting is setup with the department leadership, start the meeting by expressing your interest and passion to teach at a higher education institution. Go through your work and life experience and how you would be able to contribute as an instructor.

Then the next part is simple. Ask questions:

  • How are adjunct and part time roles filled?
  • What experience is desired for these role?
  • How does someone without teaching experience get started?
  • Does the school offer any opportunities to guest lecture?
  • How can you keep in touch on future opportunities?
  • Would it be possible for you to shadow a senior instructor? Are there potential mentorship opportunities?
  • What is the review and professional development process for adjunct instructors?

How to become an online teacher: What documents will you need to apply?

To apply for an adjunct faculty role to teach online classes, there are few things that you will need in addition to the basic job search documents. First off, you will need to submit your transcripts for both undergraduate and graduate classes. In addition, if your Master’s program had a cumulative test you will most likely need to submit the scores to prove your academic proficiency.

The following advice is “job search 101” type stuff, but it is important. Make sure the cover letter expresses why you are interested in teaching and how you will be able to contribute to the students and broader school community.

What qualifications are needed to be an online instructor?

As I have stated previously, the minimum criteria is typically a Master’s degree in the given subject area. Remember, that most full-time instructors at four-year schools have earned PhD’s. As an adjunct, it is helpful if you are able to show real world work experience that could provide valuable insights for students.

Let’s discuss the example of teaching a business, management, or marketing class. In this case, it is helpful to have corporate experience or a background in entrepreneurial activities. This allows an instructor to bring the academic frameworks and concepts to life with real world examples. Everyone has unique real world experience outside of academic training. It is important to reflect on this and be able to articulate exactly what this is for you. This is vital step in terms of how to become an online professor.

Guest lecturer: The path to an online adjunct faculty position

Guest lecturing is when one gives a lecture or presentation during another instructor’s class. It is a great way to get experience and network with faculty members. If you have specific job or life experience which makes you qualified to cover a given subject matter, this is a great way to build experience.

Signing your first teaching contract as an online professor

Most in-person and online adjunct opportunities become available on a quarter by quarter basis. If you are selected to instruct a course, the school will send out a contract which lists the credit hours, pay, and policies.

Then it is a matter of staying in touch with the department moving forward to be in the loop about future opportunities. The schedules are always in flux based on student enrollment and the school’s needs, so you may not get an offer every quarter.

It is common to get in a routine of teaching the same class or a similar class each term. The administration becomes familiar with the classes available which align with your qualifications.

How to teach online classes: How to improve your skills as an online professor

Being an online instructor is quite different than face to face. There are different routes to mastering the skills sets required to successfully instruct an online course. One way is to get exposure by taking online classes as a student. This provides great first hand experience with the challenges and opportunities associated with distance education. It provides exposure from a user perspective to digital tools like Canvas, Blackboard, Respondus Lockdown Broswer, Panapto, Camtasia, etc. For me, experience as an online student allowed me to see what did and did not work in an online environment.

In addition to being an online student, many institutions have courses or certification programs to build distance learning skillsets. In many instances these services are offered through the multimedia or digital media departments. One way or another, it is important to get experience with the tools prior to instructing your first course. The technology and digital tools become the most time consuming part of the experience, especially initially.

How to teach online courses: What digital platforms and tools are used for remote teaching?

Online teaching is all about mastering the technology. There are more and more online education tools available everyday. The IT infrastructure and resources will be different at every school, but here are some of the most common digital tools:

  • Canvas – Online Learning Platform
  • Panapto – Lecture Capture Software
  • Camtasia  – Lecture Capture Software
  • Blackboard – Virtual Learning Environment
  • Respondus Lockdown Browser – Academic Integrity Tool

How to be a good online teacher: Best practices for online learning

  • In an online class, it is exceptionally important that the class schedule and expectations are clearly stated
  • Create discussion board assignments that encourage frequent engagement and interaction among students
  • Develop clear precise rubrics that are posted with the assignment 
  • In addition to the lecture videos, post fun “disposable” videos each week so students know the content is current and feel engaged
  • Use tools like Respondus Lockdown to support academic integrity for course assessments
  • Remember, an organized structure to the class will make it easier for students to stay organized

Of course, other than becoming an online professor, there are also many ways to make a respectable sum of money (as much as $1000). You will want to head to my post, How to Make 1000 Dollars Fast in a Week, to learn more!

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