From blackboards to Blackberrys Featured

7:00pm EDT January 30, 2006
Today’s college instructors look a lot more like the office executive or manager than the traditional stereotype some of us remember. These days, an instructor’s business and technical acumen cultivated in the field, and the instructor’s ability to help students share and learn, are essential to an effective classroom (and online) educational environment.

From blackboards to Blackberrys
A new generation of professors is taking over the halls of academia. Today’s college professors are more likely to use their laptops and Blackberrys than the standard text or conventional blackboard in their classrooms.

Even the long-accepted term professor doesn’t accurately describe faculty who instruct at a growing number of institutions. Many institutions refer to instructors as associate faculty or facilitators instead.

The difference is more than just a semantic one. More and more colleges and universities are realizing that professionals with real-world expertise have invaluable contributions to make in a classroom setting. Although theory is still a vital part of a facilitator’s teaching responsibilities, the ability of the student to practically apply the learning is just as important.

Application, not memorization
In past decades, professors would spout off theory, then test students on how well they memorized the key points. That may work for more inexperienced students learning fundamental skills like math and grammar; certainly, it is crucial in some fields such as engineering and medicine. But for students — especially working adults in applied fields such as management or technology — application facilitates the learning process and memorization is ineffective.

In fact, a survey of top executives revealed that the most important skills for effective managers in today’s workplace are communication (96 percent), followed by learning aptitude/desire to grow (95 percent), collaboration and teamwork (93 percent), and creative problem-solving (92 percent).

These skills aren’t mastered by reading books or memorizing theories. They are sharpened in the workplace. And, they are discussed and debated in the lively forum of today’s college classroom.

The growing number of adult learners is helping fuel this trend. According to a 2002 report by the Association of American College and Universities, only 27 percent of college students fall within the 18- to 22-year-old age range. The rest are older, part time and/or working students. They need more than theory. They need to know how to apply that theory on the job the following day.

From department head to head of the class
Perhaps this new type of professor sounds like an interesting job to you. Maybe you’ve always had a gift for communicating but thought it would be impossible to work your way up the tenured ladder of a traditional college or university. Or you may think seeking a career as a faculty member at a local college or university isn’t manageable while maintaining a full-time job.

However, it’s easier than you may think. No longer are faculty members required to physically attend classes five days week. Colleges and universities now offer online and classroom combined courses, allowing faculty to interact with students through the Internet.

Instead of five nights in a lecture hall, you might find yourself in attendance two nights a week at class and three nights a week at home, communicating with students online.

Make no mistake. Most universities and colleges have demanding testing processes for selecting faculty members. At many schools, faculty members must possess a master’s or doctoral degree and must successfully complete a rigorous screening, assessment, training and mentoring processes.

Becoming an instructor will also boost your professional relationships. You’ll become more informed and aware of your own career and industry. You will also find yourself leading active discussions during every classroom session, challenging your own stereotypes and theories. As a bonus, you’ll even have the opportunity to network to build relationships with potential future employees.

Eric Ziehlke is campus director for the University of Phoenix - Columbus Campus. The University of Phoenix is the largest private accredited university in North America and is owned by parent company Apollo Group Inc. As of November 30, 2005, 315,400 students attend Apollo Group Inc. institutions. Reach Ziehlke at (614) 433-0095 or Eric.Ziehlke@phoenix.edu.