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Ticking Clock of the Job Hunt

As some of you know, I decided against renewing my contract with the university where I work. Basically, the choice I faced was either stay in a place where I did not belong or not renew my contract so I could look for work elsewhere. Schools need to interview in the spring so they can hire new faculty and update course catalogs. It is a gamble to change jobs, but one my wife and I agreed would be best for me.

Because my doctorate research focused on higher education and technology, I consider myself qualified to state that we are in the early stages of a major revolution. The upheaval is painful as some colleges rush online, while others outsource their online courses. Some top-tier universities and many community colleges are making these transitions well, but the vast majority of institutions are going to experience unrest. As a colleague told me, research like mine might encourage universities to trade classrooms for websites.

The clock is ticking down as June approaches. In a few short months, I will be unemployed.

What does the future hold? What is going to become of the middle-tier colleges that serve so many students? For better or worse, online education will alter the traditional campus.

Despite my technical skills and my definite bias in favor of quality online education options for many groups of students, I have no desire to see the day when more people take online courses than attend real-life discussions. The face-to-face interactions and the campus experiences are part of what makes higher education special.

Then again, I recently read about universities closing libraries, replacing them with 24-hour coffee shops with wireless Internet access. The idea of sitting in a library, surrounded by books, has been replaced by Starbucks — and that assumes the students will want to leave their wired dorm rooms or apartments.

Last week I used Skype and Facetime to work with writers remotely. I might miss the idea of a classroom, but working one-on-one with a writer can be an effective educational experience. Maybe classes will be replaced with Google Hangouts. We'll sit at our computers, staring into cameras, clicking icons instead of raising our hands.

As colleges go online, it is only reasonable for administrators to ask how this can save money. Classes with low enrollments can be merged. Instead of three or four sections of a writing class meeting at various times, an online course that "meets" only a few times during the semester are more cost effective. The majority of work can be "asynchronous" (forums and email, things that don't require a fixed meeting time). Lectures can be recorded. You can link to the "best of the best" content, too, instead of recreating lectures and other materials.

The Massive Online [Open] Course (MOOC) movement is going to eliminate some teaching jobs. Maybe it should. Some college professors are lousy — videos, books, and audio lectures might be better than the worst teachers. I have had instructors who were famous researchers, but not very good teachers. At the same time, I've met wonderful teachers with little interest in research. Maybe online courses will allow the best teachers a chance to teach, while the researchers can focus on scholarship. That's the vision of more than one MOOC proponent. That's even how they sell the idea to colleges: let the best teachers reach more students.

So, will I find an academic job and keep it through this tumultuous time? I don't know. Maybe not. It might be that "professor" is a dwindling specialty, a profession that can be outsourced after all.

The clock isn't just ticking for me — it is ticking for hundreds, maybe thousands, of other college instructors.

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