Thursday, December 30, 2010

In all fairness... I do have a dream job!

As promised... The benefits of being an online adjunct

Continuation of the Open Letter to University Administrators and HR Personnel:

Previously I detailed the cost-savings to the universities for whom I work as an online adjunct working at a distance. There are however myriad ways that I benefit from working at a distance. These help to mitigate the lack of benefits and resources of being an on-campus faculty member.

First of all, I can work from anywhere, anytime. If my best time of day is 4 AM that is when I do my course work. If I choose to work from my sofa or a coffee shop, I can do so. As long as my work is done regularly no one questions any aspect of my work attire, location, timing, etc. I don't have to cancel class because of a doctor's visit, I work before and after the appointment, or from the waiting room on my smartphone! My costs for attire are nil, literally I can teach in any stage or style of dress and no one ever knows. My costs for broadband and wireless are my own to bear but if I choose to take off to New York to see the grandchildren I can work from the airport, in the air with on-board wifi, and from the apartment once the grandchildren have been spoiled and are off to bed. My laptop and I have worked from Edinburgh, London, Maui, San Diego, San Antonio, New York, Philadelphia and other locales.

The workload varies by day, week, month, and time of year and I can balance the rest of my life around the work. Some days I have a lot of grading or course site preparation and must work for 6 or 8 hours. On other days I answer emails and respond to discussion boards in less than an hour with the rest of the day at my disposal.

My work can be done on my choice of equipment. Whether Mac or PC, smartphone or tablet, desktop or laptop; the equipment and software are my own. As long as I can access the course sites I can use any equipment and browser I like.

There are few if any staff meetings which I must attend. This varies with the university, a few do have web-based meetings which require attendance but these are always archived and can be accessed at a later time if I cannot attend online at the stated day/time. For the most part it can be said, there are no staff meetings, no committee meetings, and no one popping into my office to talk, or summoning me to their office on demand. The few administrators whom I deal with are truly wonderful people who fully understand the unique nature of online learning, and the student population in our courses. We keep in touch by phone or email. These fine administrators work very hard on behalf of all the eLearning faculty and insulate us from the many periphereal issues swirling around on campus which don't impact our courses.

When I explain what I do and how I do it to people they tell me I have a dream job. And I do! I know I do. Do I think universities are making money off me as a distance educator? Yes! Would I trade this and go back to faculty meetings, face-to-face sessions at specific times, parking, traffic, dealing with office mates, and being tied to one location for a whole semester? No! Never! I do love my dream job and I know that with every job comes a few drawbacks.

It works because I've made it work. I've curated a full time job by piecing together courses from several institutions, freelance-style, within an educational industry that has yet to figure out what its going to be when it grows up and become technologically self-aware. I am one of number of the early adopter online faculty - there are more like me scattered about, in coffee shops and home offices. For now, we are pioneers, but that status is rapidly changing.

Now... back to answering student emails from my sofa in front of the fireplace while still wearing my pajamas at 9 AM.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I am saving universities a ton of money as an online adjunct

An Important email message today about sick leave policy from one of the universities I work for starting me thinking. I am saving these universities SOOO much money by working at a distance. As an online adjunct very little is provided to me... thus was borne this open letter...

Open letter to University administrators and human resources personnel who have adjunct instructors working at a distance:

I am the faceless, nearly nameless, person teaching tens, if not hundreds, of students for you each year via your online courses. Since I never set foot on your campus and in fact probably live hundreds or thousands of miles away, I am saving you a lot of money. Clearly I am saving you money when compared to tenured faculty but even compared to the meager existence of a local on-campus adjunct, the saving from my work is substantial.

For clarity's sake let me define who I am since you probably don't know me at all. I teach online courses via my own computer from my home. You pay me by course, or by student. This is my full-time job but I work for several universities in order to earn a full-time income. And following this rant about how much I am saving you, I will detail the benefits gained by working as an online adjunct.

Like most adjuncts face-to-face or online you likely do not pay me any benefits. No insurance costs or pension fund contributions must be funded on my behalf. Sick leave doesn't apply in my world, nor does paid vacations or holidays. My courses do not close because I am laid up with the flu, I cannot close the course site and say 'take the day off' and I cannot ask someone to cover my class and teach it for me because of illness or injury. I teach from my sick bed, and while on vacation, and over holidays. In fact graduate students in online courses tend to do more work and ask more questions over holidays, weekends, and during traditional vacation times because they have extra time for their coursework. And I cannot even imagine a scenario where I would file an L and I claim for injuries sustained on the job.

There is no physical classroom to be provided for myself or the students. No utilities to be paid, equipment, furnishings, or physical presence to be maintained. In fairness you do pay for a learning management system where my course is housed. I have no idea what the balance in costs is between a physical classroom and the cost of one course on a learning management system so perhaps this is a fair trade.

No office space, even office space shared with other adjuncts, must be provided. You don't provide a computer or Internet access for me to do lesson planning, grading, or other teaching functions which require electronics. I provide my own equipment, keep my software up-to-date, use my own phone for calls to students, and pay for my Internet access while at home and on the road. Some universities do offer discounts on software or reimbursement for phone calls and postage. The hassle of filling out your paper forms and mailing them to you with receipts to get reimbursed isn't worth my time.

You have no costs for meetings or professional development. I have not consumed a cup of coffee brewed by your staff during a meeting because there are no meetings. And rarely is any professional development offered to online adjuncts. A few offers to audit a class are just about the only costs for PD that you have incurred for me.

You may offer technical support to help me with media creation, troubleshooting, and other issues but I usually figure things out on my own with the help of my PLN. To be honest your technical support people often assume a level of digital stupidity that takes so long to dispel it is easier to figure things out on my own. One does not teach online without some level of competency using a computer and Internet-based tools.

To summarize, I earn few, if any, benefits. I don't get health insurance, take sick leave, or get paid vacation. You don't have to provide a parking spot, chair, desk, or a light bulb. I don't eat doughnuts at meetings or run off 20 copies of a 10 page syllabus. I do provide excellent service to your students and take pride in doing so. Perhaps you should thank me for my generosity and willingness to teach online courses in your institution.

Instead, for this excellent customer service, you continue to spam my inbox with email about local face to face meetings, policies, and politics; none of which have ever applied to me. I am your ever-growing future is high time you figure out who and where I am.