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  1. Dorin, Michelle D. RN, CDE, CNS, PhD


Earning a living while wearing pajamas sounds great, but how do you get started on a career as an online nursing instructor?


Article Content

TEACHING ONLINE is now a hot topic among nursing professionals. But as tempting as this opportunity seems, have you asked yourself what teaching online entails and if it's something you could do-or would want to do? To help you decide, I'll tell you about online education, the qualifications you'd need, and the steps to finding a job.


Virtual virtues

Distance learning, which has been around for years, takes many forms. Some programs provide lectures to telecommuting students via satellite; others use videotapes and CD-ROMS; and still others combine all of these resources.


Despite these choices, the fastest growing form of distance learning is online education. As the term suggests, online education creates a virtual classroom accessible through the Internet. With online education, students with computer access can "go to class" from anywhere in the world by logging into a university's online learning system.


Most online classes meet in a main "discussion forum" or "newsgroup" where instructors post discussion questions and students respond to them, interact with their peers, and "discuss" relevant class readings or topics. Instructors evaluate and grade these student postings based on whether they're accurate and thoughtful and whether they successfully integrate concepts and data from assigned readings. Lectures, which may be posted online, may not be presented as frequently as they are in a standard classroom setting, but instructors often provide students with reading assignments or links to important information that students must read and analyze.


In addition to completing required reading and participating in online discussions, students typically have at least one assignment due per week. Assignments may include papers, PowerPoint presentations, tests, or tutorials; may require work to be completed individually or in teams; and generally are submitted online.


Overall, online classes require a time commitment that's similar to that of classes in a traditional university-minus the commute!! Online instructors and students can "attend class" any time of day or night.


Online education may be an extension of a traditional university setting that also offers online courses and programs. Or it may be offered by a "cyber school" where enrollment, learning, testing, and grading are accomplished solely online.


Degree programs offered by online nursing programs include RN-to-BSN, RN-to-MSN, MSN, and PhD.


Online education makes the classroom accessible to students and teachers alike, literally bringing home the opportunity to learn and teach where such opportunities may not otherwise exist.


Ready to teach?

Faculty members for most BSN level courses generally are required to have at least an MSN degree. This requirement is true for online faculty as well, although requirements differ for each institution. If you're interested in working for a particular school, check with its human resources office.


For an online teaching position, most universities will want to hire someone with previous teaching experience. For traditional nursing programs that offer both types of classes, online courses are sometimes reserved for full-time faculty. New instructors are typically not given the opportunity to teach online until they've taught at least a semester or two in the classroom.


So if you're currently teaching for a traditional college, you're in a good position to supplement your responsibilities by teaching for the same program online. If your institution doesn't yet have an online program, submit a proposal to start one-you just may become your college's expert on online learning.


If you're not currently a member of a teaching faculty, don't despair. Opportunities to teach in a completely cyber environment are plentiful, and if you have good knowledge, experience, or expertise in a particular field, you're a good candidate for an online teaching position.


Getting started

Once you've determined you want to teach online, you may wonder, Where do I start? First, don't doubt yourself. If you know your field, you can teach online, even if you're not yet an expert with computers. Most institutions offer computer training prior to teaching a class, so don't let those lingering doubts deter you.


Second, ask around. Do any of your friends, family members, or colleagues teach online courses? Have any of your colleagues taken online courses? If so, ask about the reputation of the institution, see if it's accredited, and find out what qualifications are needed. If you know someone who already teaches online, ask him to submit a recommendation for you. Many cyber universities have an online form that their employees can use to recommend others for teaching positions.


If you don't have any contacts with faculty connected to an online program but you have teaching experience, your local college or university may be a great place to start.


Many reputable cyber programs are looking for competent nurses to teach online for them. You can try the University of Phoenix Online, Kaplan University, Walden University Online, The College Network, Grand Canyon University, the University of Cincinnati, or one of many others.


New online programs are started fairly regularly. Try searching on Google for "online nursing programs" and see the long list of possibilities. Once you've identified those institutions that interest you, press on!!


Nailing it down

Now that you've identified where you want to work, update an electronic version of your resume or curriculum vitae (CV). Emphasize any prior teaching experience, including presentations, staff-development programs, lectures, and patient education.


Then you're ready to apply!! Much of this process is done online, so that part is easy. Go to an institution's Web site and click on "Jobs" or "Human Resources."


Once you've submitted your initial job request and attached your resume or CV, be prepared to submit transcripts, nursing licenses, and at least two letters of recommendation. These items aren't generally required with your initial application, but if you're contacted by a potential employer, you'll want to be able to submit these items quickly.


You may have a traditional face-to-face interview-or not. Many online programs will ask a potential instructor to take an online training class. Once that's completed successfully, the potential instructor will teach a class with a preceptor. If the teaching experience is also successful, the new instructor may begin teaching on her own, without an interview.


If you aren't contacted about a job, don't give up. Consider revising your resume to make it more attractive. If you need additional experience, get it and reapply. Remember, online education is here to stay. Keep trying-there's an opportunity out there for you.


If you're contacted by an online institution, you're well on your way. Respond to the institution's requests quickly and professionally. Remember, you're not the only one applying, so be upbeat and responsive. You're now in the hands of your prospective employer, with a rewarding online teaching position potentially in your grasp.