I want to let you into a secret that may be hard to hear—online teaching is a buyer’s market. Ok, I said it, now let’s break this down a bit more. Program owners now often have the choice of hiring someone from any state (or at least many) to teach their online courses. In the past where a business program might only have a handful of faculty who could teach Accounting, now they have potentially 100s.
One could make the argument that the market for qualified online teachers has shifted from merely those academically and professionally qualified (and available to teach) to those who are also student-focused, experienced, and ones able to adapt to shifting ground as the complexity of the online education market continues to evolve. It can see unfair to some faculty, but if viewed through the lens of student experience, colleges and universities have a unique position to hire the best-of-the-best to work with their students—and don’t our students deserve this, after all?
In this buyer’s market, then, it behooves those wanting to teach online to find ways to position themselves uniquely among a large sea of similarly qualified faculty. This will be a multi-part series, and in this edition, I emphasize engagement and presence as differentiators while already teaching online at an institution. In future articles, we will also talk about ways to find new online teaching positions as well.
Engagement = Presence.
Engagement is a tough word to perfectly define, and no matter the definition at any one institution, there’s a safe bet it likely rests on how you are addressing the elements of the Community of Inquiry. How you utilize and deliver upon social, cognitive, and teacher presence in your course is not only important to the institution if they are focused on quality online course delivery, but to your student as they seek to master the learning objectives in your course. There are so many ways to establish and cultivate these presences, and here are some ideas for your consideration:
1. Establish a safe learning environment. You do this by not making assumptions about your students, treating them with respect, responding when they reach out to you, adjusting for each of them individually, and most importantly…just being kind. You just never know what a student is going through. It doesn’t hurt to also be vulnerable and admit when you have made a mistake too.
2. Post a Weekly Announcement with text and video – and the video doesn’t have to be studio quality, in fact, students seem to really respond to casual and informative videos from their professors.
3. Facilitate the Discussion. Does your course have Discussion Board? If so, facilitate them, ask questions of your students, share your experience or the experiences of others, reinforce their position, provide other resources to deepen their learning – whatever you do, show up there like you would show up to your physical classroom for your students.
4. Timely and helpful grading and feedback. Plan your grading time so you can return items within a week, or less, if you can. In the fast pace of most online courses, if you wait longer than that the students do not benefit from your feedback before they have to turn in something else. Address them by name, positively reinforce what they did right, and constructively advise them on how to improve that assessment and future ones.
5. Be responsive. Login every day and see what is going on, respond to your students when they reach out and always be kind.
Online teaching is rigorous and in some ways you are always “on”, though if done right, you can create guideposts that provide a platform for you to have downtime too. We are all just a bunch of humans trying to get through each day and the more we understand that about our students, the easier all of the above feel. If you deploy all of the above, it is sure to show up in your Course Evaluations and administration will notice. I can assure you that this type of engagement is not always easy to find—try it out and let me know how it goes at email@example.com.