I have been working as a faculty developer for eight years, and during that time I have trained hundreds of talented, knowledgeable individuals, from those who teach business, to IT, to psychology, on the finer points of teaching online college courses. Approximately three years ago, I accepted a new position that shifted the focus of my career and allowed me to see first-hand the type of faculty we wish to hire. Unlike my previous employer, a large for-profit institution, the smaller, non-profit, liberal arts college where I now work has given me insight into the other side of the faculty onboarding process, including recruitment, and interviewing. That large for-profit had a dedicated staff in charge of vetting potential candidates, reviewing their credentials and background information before they ever reached my orientation course. Now, I hear about the faculty who will be joining our comparatively small institution to teach online and blended courses from the very start of the process. I see the nuances involved in the hiring process, including the traits we value in an educator, both obvious and understated.
So, what are we looking for when we hire educators? We focus on the usual qualities such as educational and professional background information, ability to work well with students, knowledge of best practices, etc. However, we also take subtler characteristics into account when deciding if a candidate is going to work well within our school as well as within the greater College community, including a willingness to learn, an ability to accept constructive feedback, and flexibility.
Willingness to Learn
We run a tight ship in our school. Sure, we are part of a bigger organization in that we “belong” to the College as a whole. However, because we are a fairly new addition to a much older institution, we brought our own way of doing things to the academic table, partially in hopes of providing our institution with much-needed income and a fresh pool of students to take our carefully planned and organized courses. This means that we love it when a faculty member arrives on our doorstep with experience that mirrors our own. Do we prefer faculty members who are already well versed in technology and best practices associated with online learning? Of course we do! Still, a quality I find perhaps even more important is a willingness to learn even if prior work or teaching experience deviates from how we approach the best way to educate our student population. Educators who are open-minded and eager to absorb new methods are very often easier to work with and adapt well to the ever-changing landscape that is higher education.
Ability to Accept Constructive Feedback
This quality is directly related to possessing a willingness to learn. When training faculty, I frequently meet with them on a one-on-one basis. I also hold regularly scheduled check-in meetings throughout the term, especially if I see that someone is not meeting the standards to which we would like them to adhere when teaching for us. Faculty are always welcome to reach out to me at any time with questions, or to set up a meeting if they need me to walk them through an aspect of our learning management system. I always frame these check-ins, meetings, and impromptu phone calls in a positive light, letting them know that I am there to help them succeed. At the same time, I offer suggestions on where they can improve upon their classrooms and share my own success stories as someone with over 14 years’ experience as an online educator. For example, if something should be changed in the way they are grading, or if they are not posting early and often in their course discussion boards, you can be certain I will mention it. I deliver this criticism in a positive manner, and it is always encouraging when faculty accept this advice in the spirit in which it was intended, as a helpful, instructive element of the teaching process. A defensive faculty member does not help to promote open communication, and then chances are they also might not be modeling this openness with their own students.
Finally, our faculty must be flexible. This may seem a bit dichotomous in nature as they also have to meet our requirement of giving substantive feedback, submit grades on time, and basically follow any other rules we clearly outline during the onboarding process. Nonetheless, when it comes to our students and meeting their needs, our faculty must be flexible enough to work with them if they run into personal difficulties during a term. While we should expect our students to hold up their end of the deal and complete their work, allowing extra time to submit outstanding homework can go a long way in helping a student catch up and successfully pass the course. Flexibility also extends to the sometimes tenuous nature of higher education itself. We may have an extra class for you if enrollment is higher than anticipated, and, on the other side of the coin, if a class is cancelled or rescheduled for a later time, we need you to be understanding and know that we will do our best to offer you another section very soon.
There is no one concrete formula for hiring successful, dynamic faculty. Institutional needs play a big role in how we conduct the hiring process, and this of course varies from college to college. Experience has shown me that it is important to look past the CV and get to know faculty as individuals who bring a wide assortment of positive traits to the classroom. It is crucial that we realize what works best for our respective institutions so that we build a vibrant pool of talented instructors who have our students’ best interests at heart. Once we do, we can provide a comprehensive educational experience for every student we teach.
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About the Author
Jen Propp has been a higher education professional since 1999, teaching a variety of English and writing courses, both online and face-to-face. In addition to her experience in the classroom, Jen has been working as a faculty developer for over eight years, training new faculty members, and helping seasoned instructors further explore their professional development opportunities. Jen also has experience in curriculum development, instructional design, and public speaking. More recently, Jen has been returning to her writing roots and has published blogs on a variety of education topics, along with personal essays.
On a personal note, Jen lives in a suburb of Chicago with her husband, two children, three dogs, one guinea pig, and a hamster. :-)