• Barbara L. Ciccarelli, PhD

More than an Academic Side Hustle Now More Than Ever

Are online writing teachers chipping away at the ivory tower?

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The hiring for Composition (or Academic Writing) is both on the decline and on the rise. According to Jonathan Kramnick, professor of English at Yale University, while the jobs for Composition decreased from 532 to 352 between 1995 and 2018, the hiring in Composition rose 5 percent compared to the total number of English jobs.

Although designated as the practical course in the English Studies curriculum, the course that prepares the students for literature papers as well as the soft skills for professional subjects, Composition still gets a bad rap. In fact, I once went to a university interview and was told by the interviewer, “you don’t need a Ph.D. to teach writing”; in other words, anyone can teach writing, you are a dime a dozen, and your doctorate was a waste of time.

Perhaps it is no surprise that some of my composition courses are more of a “side hustle,” the recently trendy term used in marketing for work or a business on the side of a primary job with the purpose of pocketing a little extra money. However, I’m not very fond of this term “side hustle.” The term connotes swindling, cheating, tricking out of money. I wouldn’t associate any of these words or ideas with my part-time online writing position. Writing, in fact, provides English majors and professional students with the skillset needed to go further in their disciplines and careers. The skillset is foundational and provides critical thinking, reflection, collaboration, and research.

Furthermore, teaching Composition or Writing in the multi-disciplinary international classroom is very educational for the student as well as the teacher, and on top of that, it is a lot of fun. Students pick from a variety of topics or issues in different subjects related to their interests and provide and integrate the research that backs up or enhances their points. The online delivery provides forums in which students can discuss these issues and post parts or all of their papers in a step by step process for peer review and feedback.

However, does the large percentage of part-time jobs cause concern? The gig economy hit Academia in the early part of the last decade, perhaps better known as adjunctification. In 2013, for instance, 50.7 percent of teachers were part-time; however, the scales tipped toward full-time again in the last few years with 51.5 percent full-time. Online universities generally rely more on part-time instructors, and often the instructors are teaching online on the side of a full-time ground position or dividing their time between several part-time online positions.

Part-time online positions have their benefits.

The convenience offered by teaching online, especially the flexible schedule, helps teachers to save on expenses and grants them the time to work at more than one institution simultaneously. Professional satisfaction and pedagogical advantages, like being able to monitor and evaluate classroom activities better while building a strong learning community, also draw many teachers to Web-based education.

But do the benefits make up for all the disadvantages or is this backtracking to the “I do it for the love of it” days when admitting you relied on the income meant that you were less than the academic genius in the search for knowledge?

The disadvantages involve such things as the work being more labor-intensive than ground positions, the need to provide technical support to students, the requirement for periodic training in the LMS, best practices, and faculty expectations, and the need for workable home space. The hiring terms cannot be overlooked. The online part-timer works on a term by term basis and assignment depends on enrollment and meet faculty expectations. Their pay reflects the pay of the part-time ground instructors which works out to be only 27 percent of what the full-timer earns per course.

Having said all this, there are other reasons for maintaining a part-time online position howbeit without job security or benefits, and perhaps as a “side hustle.” Online universities can offer an endless amount of professional development by way of learning webinars, presentations, additional paid duties such as curriculum building, and review, not to mention considerable research funding and support. On top of that, there is the learning community between the staff, other instructors, and students that grow with one’s time spent in the part-time position, which is especially important if you are overseas and want to maintain professional connections.

In the end, you have to weigh the pros and cons for yourself based on your own context and needs. Are you looking for your first experience in online learning, are you looking for a side hustle because you have a full-time ground or online job with benefits already, do you want the flexibility of weaving together multiple online jobs, are you retiring and looking for an income besides your pension, etc. etc. With the increase of mobility across the globe, perhaps, most of all, the question is, do you want to be a part of online learning as the way of the future?

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