We’re all aware of the stereotypes that exist when it comes to college professors. There’s the haughty professor in bifocals with the monotonous voice. Then there’s the much younger, free-spirited, tree-hugging liberal arts instructor. And you can’t forget the professor who wants you to read every page of her three published books, all before the first day of class. When it comes to traditional professors, we think we know what to expect.
Online college professors may be harder to categorize in the same way, but they are as knowledgeable, experienced and varied as the professors at traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Any assumption that online teaching requires less of an effort is false. In a 2008-09 survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, 53.9% of professors found that online courses required “a lot more” of an effort to teach and develop.
Teaching Qualifications and Training
The requirements to get hired for a teaching position are the same as they are at traditional schools. Instructors, who usually teach pre-packaged content for general courses, must possess at least a bachelor’s degree, although instructors with less than a master’s degree are relatively rare. In order to teach major-related courses at the undergraduate level online, professors must possess a master’s degree in the subject, while a doctorate degree is necessary for teaching graduate and PhD level courses.
Before teaching an online class, instructors and professors are trained in using the online delivery method. University of Phoenix Southern California professor Daniel McCrobie has worked as a professor in a brick-and-mortar school setting as well as online. “I was originally a ground instructor so I didn’t have to go through as many hoops to get hired online,” he explained. “For the ground campus, I had to do a 15 minute interactive lecture in front of senior faculty to qualify. For on-line, I had to apply to teach and when they accepted me, I had to do a [month-long] training class to find out how to use the classroom and do the administrative actions, like grades and dealing with students.”
Going Above and Beyond
One-on-one interaction with students is dependent not only on the professor, but the teaching delivery method as well. Some professors may regularly e-mail or Skype their students to ask them if they need any assistance, while other professors like Dr. Erol Ozan, who teaches at the information and computer technology at East Carolina University, choose to schedule “virtual office hours” through programs like Centra, which actually allow students to make appointments and then speak with professors through real-time video chat.
Many professors like Dr. Brian Janz, an online instructor at University of Memphis, are willing to go beyond the delivery method to interact with students. “I have gone to great lengths to incorporate online tools to help online students engage more with me and their classmates,” he said, referencing known social media platforms Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more. Many online professors believe that while the one-on-one interaction is not the same as it would be at a traditional school, technology is helping it to improve. Added Janz, “While I do hear from students that these tools help a lot in making the online learning process more personal for them, most of them do agree that the face-to-face environment is better.”
Most professors are open to going beyond the classroom to help students who need it. Professors like McCrobie provide each student with individual feedback and more written instruction or invite them to call him if they need more help. “As long as students are willing to learn,” said McCrobie, “I can do many different types of sessions to help them learn and apply the material.” Another University of Phoenix professor, Anjit Bose, agrees that being available to students is key to their success, saying, “All my students have my cell phone number and they have access to me for 12 hours a day, every day.”
Even at the dissertation level, you can expect the same level of mentorship by professors and advisors. “In addition to email, i-chat, and telephone, I am able to interact with students in multiple ways for continual contact,” said Becky Takeda Tinker, a doctoral professor at Northcentral University Online. Other online professors, such as Gail Derrick from Regent University School of Education, know firsthand how effective an online dissertation committee can be, having chaired over twenty dissertations and served on over forty-five committees. “If I run into an issue with a dissertation that is not being resolved via email then a phone call will usually work through any problems or concerns,” she said.
One Teacher, Many Schools
Another difference between online and on-ground professors is that some online professors may teach multiple courses at more than one institution at a time. “Many online schools will only assign a course or two at a time to professors,” said Dr. Diane Hamilton, a professor who has taught courses at University of Phoenix, Ashford University and other accredited institutions online. Many professors who have taught traditionally also find it is easier to balance this workload due to the flexibility online teaching allows.
While some professors and students may prefer the asynchronous class format where students are expected to participate in forum discussions at any time (as long as it is within a daily or weekly deadline), others may prefer the synchronous class format of live video and audio chatting that creates a virtual classroom experience. Due to the different formats offered by different schools, professors can easily adjust their schedules to accommodate teaching multiple courses at a time. “I don’t have to fight traffic to arrive at the university at 6pm and it is not a four-hour session all on one day,” McCrobie said, citing the “ease of engagement” as one of the things that drew him to online teaching.
This also makes it easier for professors who work outside academia and choose to teach part time. While some professors may run their own businesses or practices, others work for employers and apply the concepts they are teaching in a real-world work setting. Being guided by experienced teachers can be beneficial to students and some online programs require professors to have work experience. For example, University of Phoenix advertises a requirement to have “work experience related to the subject you wish to teach” while Strayer University requires instructors to have not only two years of teaching experience, but two to five years of working experience as well.
Students Still Need to Do Their Part
Although most online professors are available and willing to help, you need to be very self-motivated while taking an online course. Without the pressure of face-to-face interaction with professors and classmates, it can be easy to lose focus or drive. To succeed in online classes, however, you can’t rely on external forces for motivation. According to Liberty University Online alum Jeff Kennedy, it’s important for students to be self-starters: “It’s very hard when you don’t see your professor every day, who is telling you, ‘OK, now remember your assignments are due.’ Online education is just a far less forgiving learning environment in this respect.”
You can try to get to know your professors better online. Some online schools require professors to create profiles within the course itself or provide links to faculty pages detailing their individual qualifications, courses taught, publications and research, and personal information about hobbies and interests. Some professors may also have profiles on social media outlets like LinkedIn or Facebook, or websites for themselves, their businesses or projects.
Additionally, you may have opportunities to meet your professors face-to-face through on-campus orientations, seminars, required residencies, or degree-specific events organized by the school. Regardless of a course’s delivery method, you should expect your professors to be as diverse and knowledgeable as professors at traditional schools. One thing is certain, however: you can expect to find professors who are happy to teach, guide and mentor you. University of Phoenix professor Bose said it best: “This is not a job for me; this is something that I look forward to and enjoy doing.”