There's a growing trend in the college world toward online course work. With distance learning, students and teachers who may be separated by thousands of miles meet via the Internet.
It works beautifully, especially for folks already out in the working world. They take their classes whenever their schedules permit, receive and submit assignments electronically, and interact with their professors via messages and online chats.
None of this is news to the University of Maryland University College (UMUC, www.umuc.edu). The school, which boasts close to 90,000 students, has been serving nontraditional students like military personnel and other working adults for more than forty years.
Reaching out for profs
Iris Harvey is UMUC's director of worldwide faculty recruitment for both graduate and undergrad programs. Many online adjunct faculty who teach technical courses, she explains, are also employed as engineers, IT pros or scientists. Many have PhDs and nearly all have masters degrees, as well as industry experience in technology and the sciences.
"We are constantly recruiting faculty to teach online," Harvey says. "But we also have face-to-face teaching jobs to offer in locations across the state of Maryland and around the world."
"We think we're on the forefront of education for today's workforce, and that means incorporating technology to help students learn," Harvey says. "All our programs are designed to maximize accessibility for students. Technology eliminates the constraints of time, distance and location.
"Because our students are mostly working adults it's very important for our faculty to have relevant work experience. We look for at least three years experience, and prefer teaching experience with adult learners, if possible."
UMUC is looking to fill online teaching jobs in IT, IS and CS, as well as IT management, software engineering and software project management. "And we're actively seeking faculty who can teach in specialty areas like bio-computing, computer forensics, cyber-terrorism prevention and others relating to security and emerging technology," Harvey notes.
Meet Prof Washington
Michele A. Washington is an adjunct professor in information management systems at UMUC. In her day job she works in the cyber-security office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Washington, DC) as certification and accreditation manager, putting IS security controls in place. She devotes several additional hours each day to her online students.
Washington has been in IT for almost twenty years. She has a BA in journalism from Howard University (Washington, DC), but chose computer work as a better-paying field that would keep her closer to home. She started out as a programmer working for the Department of Defense, then got into IT management, and eventually moved to the Department of Agriculture.
She added a 1989 MS in general admin and management from the University of Central Michigan and a 1997 MS in information resource management from Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY).
In 1999 Washington taught IT for a semester at Prince George's Community College (Largo, MD), and in 2000 she joined the UMUC faculty. She's currently teaching an introductory course on computer-based systems, plus courses in information security and computer ethics.
Since UMUC students are located in many time zones around the world, Washington is sure to find students' questions waiting for her whenever she logs on. "A great number of our soldiers overseas are getting degrees online," she notes.
Diverse faculty, diverse duties
More than 50 percent of UMUC's faculty is adjunct. More than 35 percent of faculty members are women, and minorities represent about 25 percent, Harvey says.
Adjuncts spend a minimum of ten hours a week on their teaching duties. Both students and teachers can log in from anywhere in the world as long as they can connect to the Internet.
UMUC has a well-developed framework for its distance-learning courses. New faculty are required to take and pass a training program in the fundamentals of teaching online. Courses follow a set of learning objectives, but teachers are expected to call on their own expertise to respond to students' questions.
Her training, Washington says, took six weeks to complete. "It's a very intricate program. Students can go into the UMUC online classroom and ask me questions, and I can go in there and post assignments.
I grade the papers in an electronic grade book, putting in both the grade and my comments."
Washington is motivated to teach by her desire to make a difference for students. "I'm giving back to the community some of the knowledge that I've gained," she says. Teaching also helps her keep her own knowledge up to date.
As Harvey sees it, "I think for most seasoned professionals an affiliation with an important university is a career enhancer. Our faculty tell us they appreciate the opportunity to share their expertise with others. And our online teaching environment offers a flexible schedule that fits into anyone's professional life."