If you’ve been looking at media reports of the life of an adjunct college instructor, you’ve no doubt been made privy to all the, well, controversy. And a lot of people will say that being an adjunct—let alone an online adjunct—just isn’t worth it. But you ought to know up front: there’s a difference with the online adjunct.
There are definite differences between a part-time adjunct instructor, including those that teach exclusively online, and a full-time, tenured faculty member. Much of the discussion of those differences has been given over to specific points like salary and health benefits. Whether you decide to pursue a career in adjunct teaching depends largely on what you want. There are differences, too, between an “on-ground” adjunct and an online adjunct.
There are benefits to being an online adjunct instructor. The time you commit to the job, particularly if you want control over your time, is one. The freedom from faculty responsibilities is another. Flexibility, which can range far beyond your career, is yet another.
Each of these reasons deserves some consideration. To enter the world of online adjunct teaching is a choice, and it is one that deserves your full consideration. If you’re truly considering teaching part-time as an online instructor, then let’s look at each benefit in turn.
The Benefits of Teaching Online Courses are Many
The Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions (n.d.) posted five benefits to teaching online, based on what online instructors have to say about it.
- It’s convenient and flexible: Teachers can teach during non-traditional class times and from anywhere they have Internet access.
- More opportunity to get to know your students: The online course invites those who may be more comfortable in the distanced environment, increasing the number of perspectives that contribute to discussions.
- Opportunities for engagement and reflection: In an online course, students have more time to reflect and respond to discussion threads, and the instructor—you—get to see those well-thought-out responses. Because participation and discussion is a required part of distance education, no one can really hide in the back of the room. The online classroom thus engages everyone.
- Efficiency: Some systems use automated processes that will save time; for example, the D2L Quiz tool an instructor might use to reduce grading time.
- Instructors find the diversity enriching: The instructor’s experience, not to mention that of the students, is broadened when interacting with students from across the country, even from around the world.
Let’s look in detail at some of these benefits.
Teaching Part-Time, Not All the Time
The responsibilities of a tenure-track professor are weighty. For many, the path to tenure requires work that exceeds that of actual teaching. Publishing, for example, requires a great deal of effort that is not required of part-time faculty, and as such, they are spared the research that goes with tenure territory. That research, as well as the pursuit of publications, are generally assembled into a portfolio that requires peer review. There is no such requirement for the online adjunct instructor—save a general teaching portfolio that they can assemble themselves.
The full-time faculty member is also subject to administrative duties that fall outside their teaching. The part-time instructor is spared these duties, as well, and so the majority of their attention is placed entirely on the course they are teaching. Aside from office hours, classroom meetings, and required institutional trainings the adjunct teacher need not commit to panels, boards, or committees.
There is no doubt that teaching an online class is itself a weighty responsibility, but so long as one gives all their attention to the class—in a fashion that best maximizes and economizes their time and effort—they won’t be distracted by outside pressures.
The Flexibility of Teaching as an Online Adjunct Instructor
Being a part-time adjunct instructor entails, to at least a certain degree, a great deal of flexibility. If one teaches a class with a regular meeting time—a synchronous course, where a class may last perhaps an hour or two, sometimes more—then one must shape their schedules to that meeting time; full-time lecturing faculty will certainly need to do that, as well.
But if an online class does not have a regular meeting time, and if the class is asynchronous, meaning the schedule is dictated not by regular meeting times but due dates for assignments and discussion board responses, then there can be a great deal of flexibility. The online adjunct teacher can determine for themselves when they will be involved.
It can take a moment on a Monday morning to post a question for students, and from there, the instructor can determine when he or she will respond to student comments. Or, the online adjunct can make the conversation entirely student-centered! The online adjunct can also determine how much they will respond; if they have a lot to say and feel they have the time, they may respond extensively. If not, they may choose to leave much of the discussion to students, interjecting salient points here and there while maintaining an active presence overall.
The Flexibility of Choosing Courses and Colleges
The deeper flexibility for the online adjunct instructor can reside in more simple decisions like how many courses they want to take on. With proper research into what a course entails—what will be expected of the students by the college to meet the requirements for the class credits—the teacher can determine how much they might reasonably be willing to take on. If you are in a situation where teaching one or two classes is feasible, you can. If you can handle more, you can do that, too.
In many cases, depending on what part of the country you live in, you may find yourself with choices as to where you want to teach—which is to say, which college. Larger cities frequently have several to choose from, and you may be able to teach regionally, as well, without leaving your home. Remember, we are talking about online courses here! Commuting will be expunged from your daily plan!
You are free, therefore, to choose courses to teach at several colleges. This can help you balance out responsibilities and salaries. It may also afford you choices in which courses you might teach.
As Todd Wallis writes in Inside Scholar, the Online Adjunct Professor might begin to consider themselves to be an Adjunct Entrepreneur. “In many ways,” he says, “adjunct professors are already free agents who should leverage their skills and experience as a professor to seek out higher-paying opportunities in the nonprofit or corporate world. But it all begins with a shift in mindset: adjunct professors have to start seeing themselves as adjunct entrepreneurs, not poorly paid, part-time teachers with no other options.”
This is an incredible and necessary mind shift. In a way, approaching the job market this way is little different from being a freelance writer, or a freelance designer: You are in control of what contracts you take on. It takes time, of course, to hunt down those contracts, and it may even take a few years to get the machine fully going. Start now!
Other Benefits to Teaching Online
There may be more benefits to being an online adjunct instructor than one might expect! For example, being an adjunct instructor at SUNY Orange—Orange County Community College—entitles the adjunct to take two credit-bearing courses per academic year free of charge. Eligible dependents of the adjunct may receive reduced tuition at the college. Professional development courses are offered through the human resources department, and the Learning Resource Center is open to adjuncts. Adjuncts can even use the Physical Education facilities.
Seminole State College in Florida offers an adjunct faculty award for excellence—attached to a monetary award! And I cannot emphasize enough how valuable it is for an adjunct to receive such recognitions.
Obviously, there are challenges to teaching online. One must understand technology and know-how to optimize its use. Facilitating discussions over the internet is markedly different from seeing a room of students before you. Goals, activities, and assessments all must be created specific to an online environment, where building the community that is the class will be very different.
But online adjunct teaching does not need to be a Herculean effort. If the class is outlined properly, and the students engaged, the benefits can prove lucrative, indeed.
Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions (n.d.). Benefits and Challenges of Online Instruction. https://www.mghihp.edu/faculty-staff-faculty-compass-teaching/benefits-and-challenges-online-instruction
Wallis, T. (n.d.). Hidden Benefits for Adjunct Instructors. InsideScholar.com.