How to Find High-Quality University Lecturers
In recent decades, many universities have de-emphasized teaching in favor of chasing lucrative research and development grants. This has caused a shift of experienced PhDs out of the classroom and into the laboratory, the field, or anywhere else but behind a podium. Because universities still have tuition-paying students, they need to fill these important academic jobs.
Depending on the subject area, high-quality lecturer positions could prove relatively easy or extraordinarily difficult to fill. The humanities, especially English and history, offer a glut of potential candidates while mathematics and some of the sciences generally bring a much leaner selection of choices.
Regardless of subject and emphasis, university departments still need reliable and qualified lecturers to lead classrooms. Experienced departments have ways to evaluate those seeking academic jobs.
Examine the Syllabus
When evaluating the application of a lecturer, request a copy of a syllabus they used in a class. Certainly, a brief and incomplete syllabus will raise a red flag. It indicates that the instructor may put little effort into thinking about class structure. It needs at least some specific details that both students and administrators can examine to figure out the course of the class.
A highly detailed syllabus, on the other hand, does not always indicate quality either. Be wary of a syllabus so meticulously crafted that it allows for no flexibility. At some point in each semester, the unexpected happens. Lecturers who have trouble changing their structure to accommodate this will struggle over time.
Take “Rate My Professor” and Similar Sites With a Grain of Salt
“Rate My Professor” and other sites offer an easy way to check out student perceptions of a lecturer prior to hiring. It now has nearly 20 million reviews of instructors throughout the world. It may seem obvious that a site which allows students to select a chili pepper to represent an instructor’s “hotness” might not serve as a solid and objective indicator. At least one study has indicated that some gender bias may creep into the ratings.
That being said, don’t necessarily ignore it either. If you go beyond “boring” and “she just lectures,” you may find some really thoughtful analysis of the instructor–good, bad, or both.
Aspiring lecturers with experience should have student evaluations of their courses on hand. Hiring committees should feel free to request examples of these from the instructor. Even cherry picked positive evaluations indicated that someone found the class experience worthwhile.
Does the Applicant Have Online Teaching Experience
Good question and increasingly relevant in an increasingly digitized academic world. Most aspiring lecturers look for their academic jobs online, so a department need not act shy about desiring an applicant with online teaching experience. As universities expand online offerings to reach more remote students, this skill will prove vital
Also very important, a lecturer with online teaching experience can provide more course materials for the hiring committee to examine. Examining what materials get used and how will give insight into the lecturer’s instructional priorities, but also creativity and commitment to student engagement.
If the lecturer will primarily teach traditional face to face classes, the interview serves as a perfect opportunity to test the mettle of the academic job seeker. At some point, the hiring committee should ask that the lecturer teach. They can ask that he or she teach a specific subject or choose something of their own. Every lecturer needs to have the capacity to think and speak extemporaneously, even though in a classroom they will have notes.
During the interview, the committee can also discover other clues about the applicant’s quality or suitability. Asking about previous jobs will also reveal clues. If they absolutely loved every single job ever, that could look suspicious. That said, grousing about former bosses and jobs indicates that at some point, he or she will become disillusioned in your university as well. The best indicator of a sound attitude lies in positive, but realistically so.
Why Make the Extra Effort for Quality
The purpose of a university at its core remains teaching and learning. “University” comes from a medieval Latin word that indicated anywhere that teaching and learning took place. A university could, and did, take place in taverns, fields, and many other places before they evolved into great institutions of stone and books and time. Teaching remains the most important task performed at a university regardless of what brings money or what public policy supports.
Hiring lecturers, therefore, remains a serious concern. These women and men teaching these students have the task of ensuring in some part that they are ready for work and life in a free society. It is not just a job, but a mission and the hiring process should reflect a commitment to obtaining the highest quality possible.