Separating the Good Teachers from the Bad
Once you have narrowed down your field but before you've picked your school, look more specifically into the teachers. Look at the subjects you will be studying and the people teaching them. Do they pass the sniff test? Are they the professors that will help you reach your goals?
A first indicator is their syllabus. In a traditional class, regular meetings give a teacher continual opportunities to reinforce and modify what will be taught. But online, the syllabus is everything. It should be a transparent plan and an earnest agreement between teacher and student. Does it outline assignments, deadlines and protocols clearly? Does it sound like the product of a mind you want to follow? If not, stay away.
Do they make a clear statement as to when they will respond to emails? You cannot expect an immediate response, but you deserve one within a day or two. They should clearly post how long it will take and stick to it. Then you'll never be left hanging with a question without knowing when it will be answered, at the latest.
Have they ever been an online student? It's a different game. It's important that they have been on the other end of it. Even if only for the experience, teachers should audit an online class. In that way they can know the different challenges they will be facing. A lack of experience is not necessarily a black flag. If a professor is clear about limited experience, it shows they are aware and learning, just like you. Far better than one that hides inexperience.
Do they have a grasp of the new media? What online education loses without face-to-face contact it makes up with in depth presentations, videos, forums and expanded research. Is your instructor scanning documents into PDFs and copying old textbooks? They may be on the old dock with the new ship pulling away.
Are they full-time or part-time? Full-time teachers are required to research and be a more involved member of the faculty. Part-timers often work a full schedule and teach on the side. The relevant industry experience could be a good thing, but know where their skill and passion truly is.
Finally, do they like to be interviewed and examined? Your potential school and teachers must realize they are having an audition. Does it feel like they have something to hide? They should be proud of the things they have for sale. Never should you face annoyance or feel you are probing too much.