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How to sell yourself into an online teaching position

By Errol Craig Sull / June 2008

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Participation in online learning takes many forms: instructor, supervisor, course designer, registrar, tech support—the list goes on. No matter what your background, if you decide to teach your first course—or seek additional teaching gigs—you must learn how to effectively sell yourself as the ideal instructor for a particular school. Of course, teacher requirements vary substantially with the institution. But after teaching online courses for 13 years, conducting national workshops on distance learning, and receiving feedback on my related writings over the years, I've assembled a list of broad-based tips, techniques, and requirements for scoring that online teaching gig:

Hold at least a master's degree. This comes first because no matter what additional qualifications you may possess, you must have an advanced degree to be considered for an online instructor position. Your advanced degree helps online schools maintain their accreditation.

Have a strong passion for teaching. That advanced degree may give you a green light, but don't even consider online teaching unless you own a true passion for teaching. This translates into enthusiasm, which is so important to keeping your students motivated and involved and serves as the driving engine behind your own motivation to teach.

Know well the school to which you are applying. Too many folks apply to a school based only on an ad it has posted or a listing in some guide to e-learning schools. Be sure to do your research before applying. There is much to know about each school before you can talk intelligently about it in a phone interview. Also, research may reveal that a particular school is not right for you.

Possess strong credentials in the subject(s) you wish to teach. Graduates with newly minted advanced degrees and little else are hired to teach online. But the stronger your credentials—e.g., prior teaching experience, research, presentation of academic papers, attending conferences—the more you can demonstrate solid ownership in your field(s) of expertise. This always makes you look like a stronger candidate.

If you presently teach for more than one online institution be prudent in what you list on your resume and application. This is a touchy subject. It is no secret that many faculty, whether adjunct or full time, work simultaneously for two or more schools in online situations. Listing numerous past and present online employers could give the impression you are only interested in teaching for the paycheck or that you are a "job jumper"—never a good thing. Be judicious, for once a resume or application has been submitted it cannot be recalled.

Share your educational philosophy, with a secondary philosophy as it relates to online teaching. As part of the application process, most online schools will ask for your educational philosophy to illuminate your approach to teaching. It's best to be prepared for this so your response can be pragmatic and insightful. And have a few extra things to say here regarding online learning. This will demonstrate your familiarity with the type of work you seek and your belief in the value of online learning.

Sell your personal strengths. Beyond being motivated it is crucial to carry an arsenal of personality assets that would serve you well in teaching online. A "team player" with an outgoing personality, eager to learn new information and teaching approaches, open to constructive criticism, and with a willingness to "go the extra mile"—these are the traits that will cement your image as one who could succeed as an online instructor. Take a self-inventory of these qualities so you can list them on an application and discuss them during an interview.

Demonstrate professional involvement in your subject(s) of choice. Academic accomplishments and involvements are crucial for you to be seriously considered for an online teaching position. But being professionally involved as well shows you live what you teach—and this "real world" experience is extremely helpful when teaching a subject to students. This goes a long way toward saying, "I know this material very well and I can show how it relates to a student's everyday life."

Give at least one example of a teaching situation that especially demonstrates your effectiveness as a teacher. It's important to demonstrate that you not only "talk the talk" but have "walked the walk." Select one or two telling examples of how you turned around a negative situation, such as a student who was not involved in a class, a disruptive student in a class discussion, or a student not very motivated because of continual poor grades.

Be very computer literate. While this is obvious—you will be the one teaching the course through a computer, after all—you want to leave the impression that you are technically prepared. And this goes beyond being familiar with the newest version of Microsoft Word or knowing the difference between Internet Explorer and Firefox. It also helps if you can "speak the language" of the school's course delivery system, such as WebCT, Blackboard, WebTycho, Angel, etc. Again, do your research—it will pay off.

Always submit your best writing, and make sure it has been proofread. It makes no difference what subject you will be teaching: You must demonstrate a solid ability to write well, with much attention paid to grammar, punctuation, spelling, and proofreading. Your prospective employer needs to be sure you can write in a manner than is not only effective in getting points across, but also defines you as one who knows well the basics of good writing. Use a good writing guide to augment your writing prowess and always proofread (better yet, have someone else do it) before submitting your paperwork to the school. Spell check and grammar check should only be used to assist you, never as primary tools.

Consider your answers to possible interview questions. You will have an online phone interview, and you will be asked a variety of questions that relate to online teaching: "How do you get hesitant students involved in a class? How would you motivate students to stay active in the class? How would you make apprehensive students feeling comfortable in their first e-learning class?" Read up on e-learning in books and online, and consult with others who teach online. You want your responses to sound pragmatic, realistic, and thought through. Of course, it's also important to be an articulate and confident-sounding speaker.

Understand the importance of online teamwork and collaboration. Online courses place greater emphasis on student interaction than traditional courses do; this can occur through weekly online discussions, chats, and group assignments. It's crucial you have a good understanding of the mechanics and nuances that make the online student collaboration work—and not work. Do your homework and be prepared to discuss online student interaction in some depth.

Keep an "Online Teaching Possibilities" file always at the ready. There are two items you must have in this file: official (sealed) transcripts from all colleges you have attended (but especially from those granting you degrees) and letters of recommendation. The former will always be requested and the latter nearly always. This file is also a good place to keep copies of applications, responses from schools, information on schools to which you intend on applying, and general information about online learning.


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