During the past few years that I’ve taught online, it’s been a lot of trial and error to figure out what schools and supervisors expect from online adjuncts. Generally, we get tossed into the online classroom without much guidance (and regardless of how long you’ve been doing this, different schools place value on different areas/assignments in your course, so there’s a lot to learn!).
However, now that I’m working at 4 schools as an online instructor, I feel that I finally have a well-rounded view of what most supervisors and schools are looking for in a quality course, and I’m starting to notice some patterns evolve, so I thought I’d share this with other new online instructors (or those thinking about it), so you can set up your courses appropriately, effectively, and in as uniform a way as possible:
- Get each school’s email sent to your smart phone.
I know I’ve mentioned this in posts before, but it’s the easiest and most convenient way to be sure you respond to student emails in a timely manner. One of the biggest things schools want to see is that you check your email and respond within 24 hours on ‘business days’ and within 48 hours on weekends.
To be on the safe side (you never know when a new department chair might quietly step into leadership and expect something different without necessarily announcing new expectations to everyone- and this has happened before in my experience), I always check email and respond within 24 hours, even on weekends.
- Have an electronic rubric for each assignment.
Use rubrics often, keep them simple, and use them for each student. I used to have complicated online rubrics (back when I was coming straight from the classroom, and didn’t understand how annoying this would make the online grading process for me, or how frustrating it would be for my students to try to deconstruct once they got their grades back). I’m still working on fixing up the rubrics for some of my schools, but the simplified, more effective rubrics I recently implemented just require a few clicks and are much easier for my students to understand. It also saves time on grading and requires less written feedback..
Schools appreciate it when they see an instructor using a well-designed rubric (which makes grading more objective and less subjective, and tends to be preferable at every school), as well as giving students some additional, substantive feedback on the assignment other than simply “Good job!”
- Close all comments on the Course Announcements if you use Canvas.
This one might seem oddly specific, but two of the schools I work for are currently making the move from Blackboard to Canvas, so this is important and might just save your reputation on RateMyProfessor and elsewhere: If you send Course Announcements in Canvas, students can comment on them (at any point during the semester, regardless of how old the announcement is), and you will never be notified, ever.
I wish someone would eliminate or improve this feature so it does more than get well-meaning instructors into trouble with students (it’s happened to me as well as my bosses), but until it changes, do yourself a favor and disable it on day one. One of the worst things that could happen for your reputation and career as an online instructor (in the eyes of current students, potential students, and your supervisors) is that you’re known for being hard to get ahold of.
- Ask your supervisor what they’ll expect from you in areas that you’re not clear on.
It’s important to know how each specific school wants things done, so ask. If you get the impression that questions may not be welcome or may end up getting you into trouble with your supervisor, ask a colleague or another leader in the department for answers. For the most part, I’ve found that supervisors welcome questions when you’re new to the program- it shows that you’re engaged, hardworking, and that you want to be sure you’re doing things in a way that would be most beneficial for the department.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have very organized, clear, and communicative supervisors that I can be honest with, and I’m very pleased that they’ve been honest with me about their own learning curve and past mistakes, and have shared the way they run their own courses.
- Make effective changes to your course if it would work in everyone’s best interest.
The course design and syllabus may be created well in advance, without your input, for the course you’re about to teach (this is how some schools do it and I love it- it eliminates so much guesswork and preparation). However, if you want to make some tweaks, normally you can simply talk to your supervisor and/or instructional designer and they’ll make the changes you need, or allow you to do it yourself.
For instance, I’ve changed the essay questions on assignments that I felt were much too involved for my beginner level students at one school (it saved my sanity and helped them learn at a better pace). I’ve also set up all the speech assignments (at 3 of my schools) so that they follow the same general rubric (the trick is to make the rubric categories general, while the more detailed directions and guidelines for each type of speech that the school requires are still included in the course, attached to individual grades for reference, and followed by the students and instructor.)
If you’re anything like me, you sometimes question whether you’re running your course in the best way possible, and you’re not always sure how to find the answers. Hopefully, these tips helped to eliminate some of the guesswork, or at least encouraged you to talk to a supervisor or friendly department chair to get the full rundown.