Should industry expertise count as a qualification for college instructors?

I was chatting in the hallways with Stephanie Sullivan at SXSW. She is a premier Dreamweaver expert, active at Community MX, an author, and an excellent web designer. But, and here’s the ‘but’ that matters to college HR departments, she doesn’t have a degree. Therefore, the most knowledgeable person in her whole geographic area (Stephanie herself) in the subject of Dreamweaver is not allowed to teach Dreamweaver at her local college.

This trend to exclude real world experience and industry expertise is not limited to the state where Stephanie lives. I’ve seen it elsewhere, too. Perhaps that explains why college course work doesn’t seem to be able to keep pace with the latest knowledge and what industry considers best practices in web design.

I suggest that in a fast changing field like web design where technology changes are rapid and constant, using people with real world/industry expertise is a good idea. Heaven knows that full-time college faculty have very little time to spend on keeping up with technological change. Maybe the need to accept industry experience isn’t true of disciplines like history or math, but in terms of web design, it seems like an important idea to embrace.

5 thoughts on “Should industry expertise count as a qualification for college instructors?”

  1. I think industry experience counts a lot in IT fields. However being an expert in a field, whether through academic qualification or industry experience, doesn’t make one a good teacher. I think teaching qualifications are more important, and where I teach (tertiary) are required.

  2. I agree that teaching is a unique skill and that some technical people are terrible at trying to explain how they do what they do. But what is the answer when people who are qualified experts at teaching are unable to keep up with the technical aspects of what they are teaching?

  3. Christina, if they had asked for a teaching certificate, I would agree with you. Not all tech people can teach — that’s certain. That said, I speak, train and write. I have been complimented on those things and thus, I think I can fairly say that I’ve learned to clearly explain what I know.

    The part that was most comical to me was — their requirement was a business or computer science degree. A business degree? And that helps someone to teach Dreamweaver? Whatever. 😉

    It wasn’t a great loss to me as I knew the money wouldn’t be what I was used to anyway. But I would have been willing to do it regardless and impart my knowledge to assist in training the next gen of IT professionals… I enjoy giving back.

    Just seems a bit odd to me…

  4. I don’t know that the degree requirement (for teaching) is any more annoying than the private sector postings that require all sorts of technologies that you know won’t be needed – designers required to know Java, programmers required to know Photoshop and design, that sort of thing.

    Another thing to consider is that for some universities, the degree requirement is part of the accreditation process, and thus is really out of the university’s control. The class I teach is limited in the number of students for this reason, regardless of how many computers are in the lab.

    It’s difficult enough for those of us working in the tech industry to keep up, now imagine adding teaching load, faculty meetings, grad student committee advising, grading papers, etc. to that…

    Good topic!

  5. I recently discovered the WaSP Education Task force. They have a mailing list and are taking volunteer help from folks who have knowledge and interest in this topic such as yourself. Maybe you are already involved in this, but if you aren’t, take a look.


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