by Jennie S. Bev
Teaching online is one of the best things that a writer can do to take his or her talents to the next level, raise profile, and be useful for the community. Teaching writing and teaching online have proven to be gratifying for many freelancers. It provides an opportunity to connect, to learn, and to share. For most writers, the Internet and Web 2.0 provide a powerful platform for success.
An online teaching position had enabled me to build my writing portfolio by designing writing curricula, lesson plans, and online interactions. On top of that, teaching equals learning, which provides an unprecedented opportunity to brush up skills continuously. You, too, can be an online instructor while raising your writing portfolio. In The World is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman said, and I should add, "and everybody all over the world is learning online." You can imagine how big the market share is.
Online teaching/learning has staying power
Have no doubt: online teaching and learning is sticking around. According to Clayton M. Christensen and Michael B. Horn in Education Next: A Journal of Opinion and Research published by Hoover Institution at Stanford University, "in about six years, 10 percent of all courses will be computer-based, and by 2019 about 50 percent of courses will be delivered online."
In an online class, the focus is not on the instructor, but instead on the students, a.k.a. "learners."
Many reputable conventional universities in the United States have started offering degree programs obtainable online, which can be found at The Sloan Consortium Web site. Don't be surprised to find Stanford (yes, that's where Condoleeza Rice and Chelsea Clinton went), Carnegie-Mellon, NYU, and UC Berkeley all on the list.
Beyond the traditional higher education realm, vocational and professional courses are multiplying around the world. Learning Annex, one of the largest seminar and workshop organizers has also plunged into this business, while mediabistro.com offered 249 online classes in the past year.
Teaching online differs from teaching face-to-face
In conventional classes, oftentimes, a teacher is "a sage on the stage." In an online class, the focus is not on the instructor, but instead on the students, a.k.a. "learners." An online instructor must focus on the students' needs and be the source of empathetic understanding. Nothing is about yourself, except for conveying information and when giving out solid and professional advice and recommendations based on prepared lesson plans and materials.
As a writer, what am I qualified to teach?
If you are comfortable teaching writing, which includes but isn't limited to the nuts and bolts of writing, writing business, and writing industry, go for it. However, if you think you have other skills, talents, and knowledge, create a course outline. A good start to see whether your inventories are "marketable" is by checking Ed2Go.com. You'll find that many overlooked subjects are sellable. You can teach for an online university class, a corporation or private institution, and a self-created class. If you are considering teaching in a higher education academic setting, a Master's degree in the field related to what you aspire to teach is preferred. If you don't have one, 18 graduate semester credits in the field is a standard requirement.
Teaching for a corporation as a corporate trainer does not require any graduate-level credits or degree, but you need to be able to show seniority and merit in the field. For instance, a strong publication portfolio is as valuable as peer-reviewed articles in academic journals. If you would like to create an online class by yourself, consider hosting the Moodle software application in a server and starting to market it through various online class portals. The key is to be confident in your choice.
Is a course I design mine to keep?
Most institutions let you design your own courses, but they are likely to have certain guidelines, including preferred texts and references. Caveat emptor, however: Make sure you understand the copyright issues. Do your course designs belong to the institution as soon as you upload them to their server? If so, you may want to negotiate for a "transfer of all rights" fee. Be your own advocate unabashedly, which is better than being burned.
How can I get started?
There are many paths to Rome, indeed, and every instructor has his or her own story to tell. I personally got an adjunct professor and, later, tutor position at Western Governors University through a former professor who introduced me to his colleague who owns an instructional design company.
Linda Aragoni, who started teaching online in January 2002 for University of Phoenix and later for Axia College and Southern New Hampshire University, matched her credentials to an institution's needs. "I had done instruction design work for print for years and I wanted to get into designing for online instruction," she says. "I was finishing up a graduate certificate program in online instructional design from Capella University when I saw University of Phoenix was advertising for faculty. I went through training and was offered employment."
Mark Joyella, an Emmy-winning reporter who teaches TV News Reporting for mediabistro.com says, "The online teaching came about with my move from New York to Miami. mediabistro.com and I discussed the ways the Intro to TV class could be adapted to an online format, and decided to give it a try."
Benae Lambright, who teaches Kaplan University's Introduction to Writing Skills and Strategies, says that she first found obtaining an online position was difficult. Then she realized that instead of taking the traditional route of applying via job boards and institutions' HR departments, she began to research departments' deans or chairs. Once she identified schools that offered courses in the area she was qualified to teach in, she contacted the person directly to pitch herself as an instructor, and eventually was hired.
The online teaching takeaway
For those who teach continuing education and vocational classes, the excitement comes from the format and widespread influences and opportunities. Joyella says, "What I am particularly excited about in the online version of the class is the ability for students to take the class regardless of where they are. A young reporter in a small market somewhere can take the online class and pick up some tried-and-true tips and tools, where they'd probably not be able to be in New York for classes over four weeks."
Sally Lourenco, another mediabistro.com instructor whose bylines have appeared in top glossies such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and Elle says, "The Internet is a more powerful medium than a one-to two-hour classroom setting. It allows for more interaction and personal feedback and a longer connection with the students that extends beyond the traditional classroom and often connects us throughout their career as they grow and develop."
Top traits of the online instructor
Molly Knight Raskin, who teaches mediabistro.com's The Whole Freelancer class, has been a TV and print journalist for a decade. She is currently working as a producer on a documentary for PBS, and previously worked as a political reporter at The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer and graduated from Columbia University's Journalism School. She recommends bringing personality and familiarity to the online classroom, and devoting the same time and energy to your students as you would devote to those in a regular face-to-face class. In online instruction, a student is just an email address or screen name until you make the effort to know them, understand what it is they want to get out of the class, and delve into their work.
Richard Krawiec, who teaches Beginning Fiction Writing and Intermediate Fiction Writing through the Friday Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, says key traits include, "punctuality and flexibility. You must get back to your students quickly. You have to be flexible to adjust to changing needs and situations of your learners."
Just like learning online is not for everybody, teaching online might not be for everyone. But now online learning has become more than a trend; it is a necessity within a globally wired world, in which writers are uniquely equipped to share what they know with fellow travelers through teaching.
Media Bistro, June 30, 2008