Part Three of Four
So you have decided that wading into the pool that is online teaching may be for you. Many prospects have amazed me over the years – examples are the best way to illustrate that:
- “I really don’t like computers very much.” Really?
- “I probably need to work on my computer skills. Email is okay, but past that I’m lost.” So teaching online just uses email?
- “I don’t have a degree, but I have been working in the field for ten years. I can teach this stuff online.” You may have experience, but colleges normally have minimum requirements for their teachers.
- “I guess I would need to buy a computer.” Yea, you would.
Yes, these are real comments from people with whom I have spoken about online teaching. And yes, there have been many that I have discouraged from going much further.
In order to teach for schools that assign college credit, you must be able to meet or exceed two sets of qualifications: School qualifications, obviously, and any qualifications that the school’s accreditation body requires. (We will get into accreditation later.)
The basic requirement is that you must possess a degree one level or more higher than the level at which you are teaching. If you are teaching “lower division” classes, i.e., associate’s degree or certificate programs, you need at least a bachelor’s degree. Upper division (Junior and Senior, bachelor’s degree), you need a master’s degree. To teach graduate level (masters and doctorate), you need a doctorate degree. Again, this is the starting point.
Most schools require at least a Master’s degree for part time and full time faculty, regardless of what level is being taught. They also prefer a doctorate level, even for lower and upper division. So, if you really want to be successful as an online faculty member, then you need to at least have a Master’s degree. The master’s must be in the field in which you are teaching, or you can have any master’s degree along with at least eighteen hours of graduate credit in your teaching field. I’m a good example here – I teach Criminal Justice after a full career as a police officer. My Bachelors and Masters degrees are in Education, but I have twenty-four hours of graduate credit in Criminal Justice, meaning that I qualify to teach in both Education and Criminal Justice. So if you have a master’s degree in one field but want to teach in another, count on having to take eighteen hours of graduate courses in your field of choice.
It does not end there, though. You need to also be current and fluent in your topics, and your computer skills must be top-notch. Whether you use a Windows computer or an Apple/Mac, you need to be able to use the school’s LMS (Learning Management System such as Blackboard), including the course design parts of the system. You will have to coach students through some tasks, provide clear, accurate and complete instructions on how to access various activities in the LMS, and know what questions you will need to answer and what questions need to go to the Help Desk. You will need to know how to grade papers and written exercises including format (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.), structure, grammar and spelling. You will use Rubrics to apply uniform grading to all students. In short, being an expert in your topic areas isn’t enough – you need to be an expert in your Learning Management System as well.
Many schools will have you use conference and presentation tools to present your course materials. Tools like Audacity, Camtasia, Kaltura, Collaberate, PowerPoint, Adobe Presenter, Jing, Learnscape, SoundCloud, and others may be mandated. Whatever is prescribed is what you will need to learn – and master. Of course, use of the Microsoft Office programs is also required, along with the other “off brand” software that students will use such as Open Office and others.
Written communication skills are also extremely important. Online teachers complete almost all their communication with students, administrators and other faculty in writing, so writing skill – the ability to get your point across in writing with only one interpretation AND on the first draft – is vital to your success. Whether you are using a desktop computer, a laptop, a notebook or tablet or even a smart phone, communication is important. I have responded to student questions in line at Disney World, in the grocery store, and elsewhere on my smart phone. It is part of the job.
So teaching online is not for the weak – just knowing your topic isn’t enough. You must also acquire a lot more in the way of skills to teach online. This isn’t to say that you can’t learn as you go – you can and will. But mastery of these computer skills will help you to get the job done in a shorter period of time – important when juggling several schools at one time.
Most colleges and universities carry some type of accreditation. This means that some oversight body has set standards, and through some process the school must meet or exceed these standards. For over a century, most reputable colleges and universities carried regional accreditation, not national or international, but regional. Regional accreditation started in the 1880’s covering the country with its twelve accrediting agencies by 1923. Why so many regional accrediting organizations? Accreditation usually involves site visits, and travel back then was by horse, train and later horseless carriage. Regional was forced by mode of travel.
With the advent of online learning in the mid-1990’s, the regional organizations weren’t sure what to do with online course accreditation. So other accreditation organizations spring up to fill the gap, offering “national” or “international” accreditation. While the bulk of colleges and universities in the United States are regionally accredited, there are others out there – mostly online, but not necessarily so – hold accreditation from these other newer organizations. Here is where we run into a problem – many of the regionally accredited schools will not recognize credits or degrees from a non-regionally-accredited school. Students transferring into a regionally accredited school may be surprised to find out that the Associates degree that they got will not transfer to the state university.
What this means to you as a teacher is simple – schools want instructors who have degrees issued by regionally accredited schools. If your degrees aren’t from regionally accredited schools, expect to have serious difficulties getting a job teaching online. If your educational resume is lacking, catch up using regionally accredited schools.
My alma mater, the University of Central Florida, is regionally accredited. This is from their accreditation page on their website:
The University of Central Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to award degrees at the associate, baccalaureate, master’s, specialist and doctoral levels. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call (404) 679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of the University of Central Florida.
ITT Tech has had a reputation for its courses and credits not transferring to other schools. Here is their accreditation statement.
This Institution is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (“ACICS”). ACICS is an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
750 First Street, NE, Suite 980
Washington, DC 20002-4241
Telephone: (202) 336-6780
Even though it looks like ITT Tech is a reputable school, being accredited by ACICS isn’t the same as regional accreditation. “Buyer Beware…”
It does not really matter whether you choose to use Windows equipment or a Mac computer. What is important is that you have the latest version of the operating system that is available; you have a good, strong, fast, dependable internet connection; and you have plenty of screen “real estate” to work from.
The computer that you choose should be fairly new, especially for Windows users. I must admit that I do most of my work on a 2009 Macbook Pro and a 2009 iMac desktop; Macs tend to tolerate software updates better than Windows, so upgrading machines is not as desperate. That said, I will upgrade both to new, current hardware in the coming year. Whatever you are using, make sure that you are running the most current operating system, and of course learn to work that system well.
Internet is your “bread and butter,” so your internet connection should be stable and dependable – and fast. College LMS’s push a lot of data in and out, so a slow internet connection will be frustrating at the least and maybe even a deal-breaker. Think of it this way – the LMS is housed on a server somewhere, so when you click on a link, you are telling another computer somewhere to take you to that link – over the internet. If you computer is slow in serving websites to you, you may want to look at your connection speed and/or computer to see where the slowdown occurs, and upgrade. If you use a wireless network in your home, it could also be a source for signal slowdown.
Screen space is also something that you will find is needed for online teaching. Many times you will have several programs open at once, switching back and forth between them. Having them on a large screen helps to keep you organized and thus faster in doing what you need to do. For example, if you are grading papers, you may have the LMS open to the gradebook, with another LMS window open to the student submission page. You would also have Microsoft Word open so that you can open the student’s work, and yet another window for your email. Doing this on a tablet is impossible, and really tough on a laptop or notebook. Even on a small desktop screen, having all that open and usable isn’t easy.
To solve any space problems, hook up one or more large monitors to your computer. HouseSpouse Barbara teaches for several colleges online and uses a newer Macbook Pro with two 24″ Dell monitors plugged into it – lots of real estate. Most newer laptops will allow two monitors to plug in without any fuss, and adding an extra monitor to your desktop should be a breeze. So if you are looking to upgrade your equipment, look into the adaptability of external monitors. By the way, flat-screen monitors can be had for less than $200 each – a bargain when it comes to using your computer for work.So
So you have the education, equipment, computer knowledge and internet stability that will allow you to teach online. Next time, we wrap up this series with Teaching Online: Getting That First Online Teaching Job.
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