The online adjunct professor does not work a 9-to-5 job. Far from it. Even for full-time faculty members, the majority of whom teach in a traditional classroom setting, that typical, 1950’s-era thinking regarding the daily grind doesn’t hold true. Still, the typical full-time faculty member has to hold to some traditions like classroom times, office hours, and so on, and those generally tend to fall in a Monday through Friday schedule. This does not hold true for online adjuncts, where the “schedule,” including how many hours one works, can be far more flexible.
The number of hours that an online adjunct professor might work can vary considerably. Whether they even approach a 40-hour workweek depends largely on how many courses they teach, how many schools they teach for, and the amount of work each course entails. It can be, depending on the institution one works for, considerably less than 40 hours.
As an online adjunct instructor, you have some freedom to choose how many hours you work. That will depend on the requirements of the university or college you work for, some of which we’ll look at here.
Office Hours in the Online Classroom
To begin, the first thing to find out is this: What office hours am I expected to keep? Typically, those office hours will be factored in per class. It may be as little as one hour per week, per class. On the outside, you could even figure two hours.
In the online environment, however, that fixed number may prove unnecessary. You may keep no office hours, preferring to respond to student questions via email. In that case, though, you could set yourself an established time of one or two hours per week to respond to students.
The fact is that, naturally, the online adjunct is not going to be expected to keep “office hours” in the way we imagine. For one, they have no “office”! And secondly, the fact that the course is online and, hence, flexible, allows for a different design on the class, where the instructor can allow for a number of ways for students to have their questions answered.
Time Spent in the Online Classroom
Next, how long will your class actually run? If your course is “live,” offered through a feed, then you will naturally factor in the time of the actual class meeting. An hour? Three hours? That depends on the class.
But for those online adjuncts who teach in the traditional asynchronous online classroom there will not be a regular class meeting! There may be discussions held via discussion boards, in which case that time will have to be factored into your week.
Prep Work and Grading
We all know that prep work and grading takes time—sometimes lots of time. The majority of the time spent on the online class could very well fall into this category. But again, it all depends!
Some colleges will offer a preexisting curriculum, as well as assignments. That would save, of course, a lot of time in prepping. If that is not the case, then one has to think about how long it would take to assemble a syllabus, calendar, assignments, and lesson plans. If you’ve never taught a course before, that work all comes up front, but later, you can fall back on what you’ve already created.
Grading—especially if you are teaching, say, composition—can take a lot of time. That said, if you intend to correct every misspelling or incidents of faulty comma usage, you may be setting yourself up for catastrophe. Use evaluation time well; remember that students will often have access to things like writing labs and tutors, and for many instances you can refer them to staff that can help with things not entirely in your domain—library personnel, for example, who can help with research.
Use your time well, schedule reasonably, and you may find that a class need not take a lot of time. Is there a standard measurement? Let’s look at one.
What Does the Federal Government Say?
In order for colleges to comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) the federal government set some standards. They are as follows:
In order to give college adjunct faculty a fair shake, the federal government set hours-based equivalents for classes, and these diverge from the credit hours a college assigns. For each “classroom hour,” a college must count 2.25 work hours. Thus, if a class meets three hours a week, the hours worked would be 6.75. So let’s round up and say, for the sake of argument, that being assigned a 3-hour class—that is, a 3 credit-hour class—means about 7 hours of work.
Now add, per class, one office work hour per week. That is also an ACA requirement. That means, in all, the federal government supposes that your teaching of one 3-credit hour class is worth roughly 8 hours.
With this equation, teaching five classes would fall to about a 40-hour work week. You would be working, at least according to this standard, 38.75 hours. Naturally, you can assume that some classes would take longer, but that others would take less. But this may serve as a baseline—how many hours could you reasonably commit to a class?
Organize Your Online Teaching Work Week
One advantage in teaching an online course is that you can really determine your own schedule. Need to take Friday off? You can. Want to work on Saturday for a few hours to make up for it? You can do that as well. Mornings, evenings, in either case, it is what works for you—and also what kind of parameters you establish with the students.
If you are clear from the outset, the students will know what to expect. How long can they expect to receive a reply to an email they sent? We can safely say that 24 hours is a standard of courtesy. In fact, with questions in general, factor in the commitment of perhaps an hour on given days to answer questions. You can even set that hour up as an “office hour,” and let students know when you will be available to answer questions. Keep it regular; that benefits both the student and you!
I say this because the alternative is attending to your class-related responsibilities helter-skelter, which only eats up more time. You don’t want to interrupt what you’re doing to answer a random email, no matter how important. It may be wise to tell students that, once you post an assignment, you will be available for 24 hours to answer any questions regarding it. Then set a time for later in the week for additional questions.
In short, forge a schedule. Remember, too, that you will likely have multiple classes that need attending to. If you are efficient with your time, you may find that you have more time to commit to the class. And that can well mean the ability to take on more classes!
The Bottom Line (Literally)
So how many hours does an online adjunct work? As a baseline, say roughly twice the number of credit hours a week. But to be realistic, if not a bit liberal, you could multiply the credit hours by 2.5 instead. If you’re teaching a 4-credit hour class, give yourself 10 hours, factor it onto your calendar, and stick with it. Then, you could add in an additional hour for the requisite office hours. Let’s say that a 4-credit hour class will demand 11 hours a week of you, spread over lesson planning, maintaining the online class, and evaluating student work.
For a 3-credit hour class, which is a standard class, figure 8 hours a week. With that as a baseline number, now you can really answer the question of how many hours you can work with how many classes you can realistically teach. You could potentially teach four to five classes, for sure, and keep within your time restraints.
Be realistic with your time. Evaluation of student work should be helpful, of course, but also to the point. Even high school teachers know that you can’t spend an hour on a single essay from a single student. If a single class of 24 students all have an essay due at once, that would be a lot of grading (an understatement, I know). So it is wise, too, to really give yourself time to go through the work carefully—and let students know when they might expect the work back with your comments. A week is probably fair.
One important thing to remember is that the weeks can well vary. Some weeks may require little to no additional work. Others—especially if you are teaching freshman composition—will require a substantial amount of time in a single burst. Plan it out beforehand. Set limits on how long a student may meet with you: 15 minutes? Half an hour?
Another important factor is how many courses a college will allow you to teach. Many will limit you to 29 hours, based on the federal government’s equation. This is one of the main reasons that many adjuncts work at numerous colleges.
And remember, too, that much of these numbers depend on what you’re teaching. Some courses will require far less evaluative work, for example. A math class could be set up with quizzes graded by a computer program rather than sitting in your office poring over 5-page essays. Some classes will not need such a tremendous amount of time.
The best you can do is to look at job boards and college websites and ask questions. Be clear on expectations for office hours, the amount of work a student will need to do to meet the standards, and so on. Once you have this knowledge, you can set your own hours and adhere to them.