Instructor Bio Tips & Tricks

by Christine Scherer

The instructor bio is such a simple, basic part of the course that it can be easy to overlook its importance. When so much time is taken up with assignment rubrics, video scripts, and discussion prompts, thinking of how to describe yourself to students can seem pretty minor.

But it is worth thinking about. The instructor bio is often the first introduction that students will have to you–as an educator, as a subject matter expert, and as a person. So it’s key to make a good first impression with an instructor bio that students will want to read.

Quality Matters requires an instructor bio, as part of their standards for quality online course design. They say:

[The bio] presents the instructor as professional as well as approachable, and includes the essentials, such as the instructor’s name, title, field of expertise, email address, phone number, and times when the instructor is typically online or may be reached by phone.

Expectations of the relationship and communication style between teacher and learner are culturally influenced. Including information about the role of the instructor and how to address the instructor is helpful to learners from all backgrounds.

The self-introduction helps learners get to know the instructor and, in addition to the essentials mentioned above, could include comments on teaching philosophy, a summary of past experience with teaching online courses, personal information such as hobbies, family, travel experiences, etc., and a photograph, audio message, or video (including alternative formats to ensure accessibility).

These recommendations all focus on a crucial element: knowing your audience. The instructor bio is written for your students–not academic peers, not a hiring committee, not the dust jacket of a book. Don’t just copy from a cover letter or CV; the tone you’d take when writing to potential employers is very different than the tone you want to take with students. Students will appreciate an overview of your work and academic history, so they can look for commonalities and things to aspire to. They don’t need the title of every article you’ve published in the last decade, or detailed descriptions of every project you’ve led at your last three jobs.

That leads to our next piece of advice, which is to stay focused. Walls of text are off-putting in any online context, and when confronted with a five-paragraph biography, many students will skip down to the contact information and ignore the rest. That’s not a good first impression! Try to keep your bio around one or two paragraphs in length so that students can read it quickly and learn a bit about you before continuing on to absorb the rest of the introductory material.

This might all sound pretty confining. You want students to be able to find your publications or appreciate the decades of work history that gave you the expertise to feel confident teaching this course, plus add some personal touches about your family and hobbies. But you aren’t limited to sharing only what fits into a brief instructor bio. You can provide students with links to your LinkedIn profile, professional Twitter account, personal website, industry blog–anywhere that you’d be comfortable with students following and connecting with you. This provides an added bonus for SPS students especially, as many of them are adults looking to advance or change their careers. Connecting with an instructor and maintaining that relationship after the class can be a key networking opportunity.

So when it comes time to write your instructor bio, don’t just copy from a cover letter or dash off a few lines about your teaching history. Take some time to think about it, make an outline, brainstorm the kinds of things you would want to know about an instructor if you were about to spend ten weeks learning from them. And then write an introduction that will make students excited about your class, because they get to learn from you.