Frequently Asked Questions about WLS Online Courses
How do online courses work?
Just as with face-to-face courses, class prep work can vary considerably depending on the focus of the course. But in general, preparation work consists of portions of Scripture to study, readings, and/or projects that students work through individually as they make their way through the course.
Unlike face-to-face courses, the students aren’t present together in the same room to hear the instructor’s presentation or the questions and answers offered by other participants as they discuss and seek to understand the focus of the lesson.
In other words, the “classroom” element differs significantly. Those elements of what takes place during the face-to-face class hours are handled in three ways.
- The professor’s lesson introduction and lecture are typically condensed into a brief narrated PowerPoint or some other audio/video presentation (roughly 5-10 minutes in length) that each student can access at any time from the course page on SemNet. Because the introduction/lecture is always available online, it has the added advantage of being able to be watched more than once if there is something a participant wants to review.
- The discussions of key points in each lesson are handled as threaded online discussions between the students (and the instructor). Initial answers and follow-up discussion take place over the course of several days as students give their answers and respond to the answers of others in the class. Instructors often close the discussion with an overview of what was learned – and perhaps what could still be learned – from the focus of that discussion.
- In some courses, particularly exegetical courses, there may also be some group work that is done using something like online Google docs that allow for different course participants to contribute to a common document.
How much time each week would I need to devote to an online course?
At present most of our online courses are either 1.5 or 2 credit courses.
On average, a participant could expect to spend between 4-6 hours per week if taking a 1.5 credit course.
On average, a participant could expect to spend between 6-8 hours per week if taking a 2 credit course.
Since every class participant may read at different speeds, and since the amount of time each participant devotes to his discussion posts may vary, your time commitment could be greater or lesser than that estimate.
Can I work at the course according to my own schedule and pace?
While a few of our online courses offer more of a “self-paced” approach, all of our courses do provide a course schedule to follow. While “class time” and “preparation time” can be scheduled during the day whenever it works best for a participant, there still are dated assignments that help keep the participants working together on similar tasks. This is especially important in order to enable timely discussion on key issues and questions.
It is vitally important that a pastor recognize that, while online courses offer great flexibility in regard to when the work is done, there still needs to be allowances made in the schedule for the course work. To simply try to steal bits and pieces of time at random from ministry or family obligations does not work well (just as that would not work well for a face-to-face class). When taking an online course, it is wise to discuss with lay leaders what can be removed from or postponed in the ministry schedule so as to allow sufficient time to be invested in the work of the course. Time spent in such a course is a legitimate investment in gospel ministry.
What happens if family or ministry obligations take me away from the course for a few days?
Just as in face-to-face classes, instructors are well aware that situations can arise that may make an “absence” during a class a necessity. Just as an absence in a face-to-face class means a participant’s “seat” is empty that day as class discussion takes place, so also in the online environment, a participant may miss a few online discussions.
Our online courses provide a way for course participants to let their instructor and other classmates know when they may have an “extended absence” during the course.
I like being able to sit and listen to a professor who has done some thorough study on the Scripture portion being studied or the ministry challenge being addressed. Won’t I miss that in an online course?
There is no doubt that online learning is not a duplicate of the face-to-face classroom. There is less time just spent “listening” to the presenter. However, the instructor’s input from an area of expertise is still present and impacts the course in many ways. The brief introductions and lectures allow the instructor considerable direct input from the fruit of his study. Obviously, he has also selected the readings carefully from what he read to prepare for the course. Finally, considerable guidance is also revealed in a more subtle way in the choice of focus points for discussion, and in his participation as the discussions conclude.
Can there really be good interaction among the course participants and between the instructor and the participants when they aren’t actually together in the same place?
It is true that online discussions lose the immediacy of the rapid fire discussion that can develop in the face to face environment. However, our professors who teach online classes also have noticed a distinct advantage of online discussions that develop over the course of days. Participants have a chance to ponder their answers. Answers are often more carefully thought through than what is offered “off the cuff” in a face-to-face classroom environment. As the course develops, and the participants become more comfortable with one another, the challenge is often keeping the amount of interaction manageable for those who want to read through the posts. It is the kind of participation that most face-to-face instructors would love to have but often don’t see.