How to Work from Home: Interview with an Online College Professor

Thanks for joining us, Dave! What do you do?

I work entirely from home as an online adjunct for three colleges: Western Piedmont Community College, Morganton, NC, Isothermal Community College, Spindale, NC, and Excelsior College, Albany, NY. All classes are online, either via Moodle or Blackboard, which are online learning communities.

What’s your background and experience in this field?

I hold a doctorate in Education (Ed. D.), a Specialist I in Higher Education/Teaching Religious Studies (Ed. S.), a masters in Religion/Biblical Studies (M. A. + 60 additional hrs.), a B. A. in Religion/Humanities, and the graduate certificates (15-18 hrs): global studies, online teaching and learning / global education, and sociology. I have 16 years teaching experience in Higher Education.

Do you work part-time or full-time?

The time and course load is full-time, but because it is spread out over three colleges, the pay is part-time. My main job is confidential, like being a 00# agent for MI6; the code for the project is dTd.

So college professor is just your cover. Gotcha.  Did the government set you up pretty with these colleges or did you have to find your own work?

I got started by asking around; I also needed something to do after quitting my last job.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.  I’m not surprised that networking was key in your job search. Did you ever think about going to work at a physical college instead of an online university?

I prefer to work from home; going to and fro between work and home is a great waste of time and gas!

I couldn’t agree more! How is teaching online different from teaching face to face?

It’s almost entirely different. Let me give you some examples:

1. Teaching online is more time consuming than onsite.

2. You can not be unprepared and teach online, unless you wish to appear as a jerk to students.

3. Instructors often “teach” onsite classes on the fly when pressed for time. This is not possible in an online situation.

4. Most online courses need to be complete before the semester begins. This is not the case with onsite courses, although it should be.

5. Synchronous (chat, DimDim, eluminate, and all video or audio chat) is bad for fully online courses; it should be reserved for sporadic adventures for onsite courses.

6. You can preserve the time and space compression features of online classes by making all assignments, forums, and activities asynchronous.

What suggestions do you have for someone who wants to become an online professor?

Be prepared for low pay, since beginning positions are typically part-time/adjunct faculty. Your contract is year-to-year so you don’t have much job security or recourse.

The best thing to do is to look for a full-time or 3/4 time (with benefits) academic job, and then talk the department head into allowing you to do it online.  If your department head isn’t convinced that a fully online course is possible, turning an onsite class into hybrid course by offering online discussions, quizzes and assessments online, as well as lectures and readings online is the next best thing.

Thank you for taking time to talk today. I really appreciate you letting us take a look at how you work from home.

You’re welcome, Judith!


Work from Home, Part 3: Using Existing Talent

Working from home

Welcome to my office

So Mary Kay was a flop, pottery was out of my league, and I had a little baby boy to take care of.  I needed to find a way to make extra cash from home, pronto.  So I took inventory of my possible talents.

1. Direct salesperson.

2. Potter.

3. Seamstress/crafter.

4. Virtual librarian.

5. Musician.

6. Writer.

I gave making leather baby shoes a shot.  It about killed my non-industrial Singer sewing machine. I looked at Virtual librarian jobs, and they were all full-time. I was a bass player without a band (well, I did have a band but they were all six hours away HOLLA MUSICSMYTHE!) so it all came down to writer.

This is how it happened.

During graduate school I had to do a tedious exercise in volunteerism working for Internet Public Library 2. I answered questions submitted by users with the thoroughness of a researcher, even though they were things like “How do you change a diaper?”  My editor had buns of steel, apparently, and sent back my submissions multiple times.

What I didn’t know was that this was valuable, resume enhancing experience.

Two months after I graduated, I applied as a content writer for a popular question database website.  I sent in writing samples, including a question I answered from the Internet Public Library 2, and immediately received an invitation to test with them–an invitation 60% of their applicants did not receive. I passed the testing phase and was hired as a writer.

For a year, I worked as a content writer and made several hundred dollars a month.  No, it did not replace the income of a full-time job BUT….

1. I didn’t have to spend money on gas.

2. I didn’t have to buy a “professional” wardrobe.

3. I didn’t have to pay for childcare.

And I got the job using my existing talents–not talents that I wished I had (le sigh. pottery.) It also didn’t hurt that I pursued something related to my graduate field of library science–research.

Next up, Work from Home, Part 4: Being Let Go

How to Work from Home, Part 2: Niche-Finding Fail

My first of several face pots

I took a pottery class in 2008, right before I was married. It was loads of fun, very messy, and I loved it. I got pretty good. Good enough that I was motivated buy my own second-hand equipment and start making pottery myself. I found a little shop that specialized in local artisans and they loved my stuff. I thought I had this work-at-home thing in the bag.

Um, wrong.

When I say I got pretty good, I mean that after hours of tedious work, I could produce something that looked cool. I had trouble making things in consistent shapes or sizes, much less making them efficiently.

My one redeeming product was face-pots. These ugly/cute creations are a dime a dozen in my home in the foothills of Western North Carolina, but in eastern Virginia, they sold quickly and for a good price.  But when I did some figurin’, I found the time it took to create my pottery was cutting into my profits: the business was failing. I was just too slow.

The reason my pottery business failed wasn’t because the market wasn’t any good, or because I didn’t know how sell my wares–I just wasn’t a professional. I was a beginner. My husband and I calculated that it would take me about a month to make enough inventory to sell at a single weekend crafts festival. I just wasn’t experienced enough to produce the amount it would take to cover my expenses and overhead.

Even so, I would have kept plugging along if I hadn’t had a baby. Thank goodness I did, because I believe I would have frustrated myself to death, trying to work at a professional level with barely a semester’s training and some old equipment. I realized making pottery my way–at a turtle’s pace–didn’t mix with the short nap times of my child.  And you can’t just leave pottery and come back later–the stuff dries too quickly.

The time came. I had to sell the pottery equipment.

The silver lining is that I got a really good deal on the equipment and ended up selling it for more than I had in it (Craigslist, of course). I just didn’t have the expertise to make a living with pottery. But the experience taught me something–I had some gumption, some creativity, and folks who thought I produced something worth paying for. It was a step up from the misery of Mary Kay, but far from finding my niche.

Even so–that ferocious face pot lives on somewhere, in somebody’s home.  How cool is that.

‘To be continued…

How to Work from Home, Part 1: Don’t Sell Mary Kay

I get so excited about invitations. Hand delivered, e-vite, Facebook invite–I love them all! So when a friend from chorus handed me an invitation, I was pretty psyched.  Until I saw the words “Scentsy Party.”

Le Sigh.

If you don’t know what Scentsy is, let me rephrase: Amway, Tupperware, Mary Kay, Avon, Pre-Paid Legal, Thirty One, Lia Sophia, Pampered Chef…but with candles and lotion.

These companies are called “multi-level marketing” programs.  Someone recruits someone else to sell a product, making that person a “consultant”. The recruiter gets a cut of the consultant’s profits (or some type of kickback), and the consultant sells the product and recruits other people. Sales are made by convincing friends to host “parties” made up of friends. Typically, consultants offer the hostess free stuff, bring brownies and Sun Drop, and everybody pretends the event isn’t just a sales pitch to a captive audience.

Stay at home mommies looking for extra cash are the bread and butter of these companies.  Why? They make two claims about being a consultant:

1. You can work “your own hours.”

2. It’s fun!

Lies and more lies.

Truly successful multi-level marketers work their buns off.  Ever seen a pink Mary Kay Cadilac? The woman at the wheel works 50-60 hours a week, supervises dozens, if not hundreds of junior consultants, conducts training sessions and workshops, and still runs a few “parties” for her clients.  She may find her work fulfilling, but not “fun,” and she’s not working her own hours.  She’s working ALL hours.

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay, was smart as a whip. She knew what would get women to buy stuff: guilt. She also knew how to get women to sell stuff: prizes.  So she created a company where women guilt their friends into buying something in order to get a prize, culminating with the mighty Pink Caddie. It’s not about selling a great product, it’s about selling an ideal.  Check out the Mary Kay slogan:

“Mary Kay–Enriching Women’s Lives.”

If it was about selling great make-up, it might say something like “Mary Kay–everything a makeup addict can’t live without.” (That’s actually MAC’s slogan.)

In 2007, a Mary Kay consultant approached me and my sister about selling. We were psyched up, sold by the enthusiasm and glamour she conveyed. She brought us to her “boss” (If you read vampire novels, you can think of her as our friend’s “maker”) to get our training.

The first thing the woman did was convince both of us to buy $2000 dollars of Mary Kay products with our credit cards to build inventory.  “If you want business results,” she said, “you have to treat this like a business. If you want hobby results, treat it like a hobby.” Right. So only dumb people forgo inventory–and credit card debt–right?

I bombed at selling Mary Kay for the simple reason that I realized that I was cheating folks.  Oops. I didn’t mean to say that out loud. What I meant to say was that I was selling a low or average quality product for twice or three times its true value. I knew I wasn’t actually providing anybody with something that they needed. Shoot, I wasn’t even that good at putting the make-up on myself, much less being someone else’s “beauty consultant.”

The question was: what did I have to offer? Was there a service I could provide, or a product I could create that would make me deserve the hard earned cash of my friends? I was sure there was. I just had to find it.

Coming Up, How to Work from Home, Part 2: Niche-Finding Fail.