Thank you for registering for a summer 2013 distance education course. All of us in the Online Campus are looking forward to working with you as you advance your personal, professional and academic goals.
This semester continues the changes we began in the fall 2012 semester as new federal regulations reshape our scheduling policies and redefine student attendance expectations in distance education courses.
Once again, these changes are very important and we would like to take just a minute or two to emphasize a few that will most directly impact you.
First, all distance education courses must be scheduled within the standard start and end dates of our published semesters. This is a national policy and will impact almost all distance learning programs.
We have, however, developed new “session” options that will provide scheduling flexibility within the semester dates. What we are calling Session “A” is 16 weeks in length, and for summer 2013, begins April 29th and ends August 17th. and Session “B” is 8 weeks in length and concludes June 22nd. It is followed just days later, on June 24th, with Session “C” – another 8 week session that ends with the August 17th semester closing date.
Clearly, it will be somewhat challenging to complete seminary courses in 8 weeks, though we have had many students choose this option voluntarily in the past with great success. It takes a good measure of self-discipline and it requires that students manage their time wisely. To help you avoid overload, we are limiting enrollments for the 8 week “B” and “C” sessions to 1 and 2 credit hour courses. Students enrolled in the 16 week “A” session, however, can choose any course, 1, 2, 3 or 4 hours. If you have not taken a distance education course before, or if you have no need to accelerate your courses we would encourage you to enroll for Session “A” which give you the full semester for course completion.
Federal regulations also now require that we “take attendance” both at the beginning of each course and in the final week of the session for which you are enrolled. This is not an option; this is a national mandate that applies to campus students and those engaged in distance education programs nationwide.
For online students here at Western this means that within the first week of your session you MUST – let me emphasize MUST – login to each of your course’s online learning centers, download and complete the policies affirmation file, then upload it to the web. This constitutes your first-week attendance check. It also may represent the easiest one or two points toward your final course grade that you will receive in seminary.
At the end of your session two things must happen. First, you must submit your course verification assignment by 8:00 A.M., the Monday morning of your last week. This is a simple notification to your mentor that you have submitted all of your assignments and that he or she may complete final grading. As a reward for timely completion, you will receive 5 to 10 points - depending on the total number of possible points for your course.
That is the plus side. Please recognize, however, that assignments submitted after that same time – after the beginning of the last week of your session – may be subject to a grading penalty of up to 10 percent of your grade. This is new for the fall so please make every effort to stay on schedule and to submit all required course work in a timely manner.
In the last week of your session, you will also receive a link by email to a course evaluation and reflection form. Again this MUST be completed and submitted in that final week in order to register your attendance. Even if you complete your other course requirements early, you must respond to the email link and submit your evaluation in that final week.
If you are receiving financial aid, failure to demonstrate the required academic activity could impact your financial aid status.
Our purpose is certainly not to be inflexible or punitive. Since the beginning of our distance education program we have worked to provide our students with as much scheduling flexibility as possible while still achieving course and program learning outcomes. Still, Western must comply, and will comply, with all governmental regulations, both in the letter and the spirit of the law. We are after all working to a shared goal: the care of our students and the assurance of a quality learning experience.
Benefits of Maintaining Your Course Schedule
Following your recommended completion schedule is for your benefit primarily, not ours. Here are five benefits – and you will surely identify others – that you will realize by managing your time well:
- Your course instructors will have the opportunity to provide constructive feedback. While grades are clearly important, you are investing time and resources to improve learning and to establish the foundations necessary for your personal and professional future.
- You will have the opportunity for resubmissions to improve the quality of your work which, of course, will increase learning and your grade.
- You will have time for reflection. The ultimate goal of a seminary education is not to fill your head with facts but to see the Holy Spirit of God touch and transform your life. That takes time as your reflect on what He is teaching you through your studies.
- You will avoid, as much as is possible, the reality that “it could be worse.” Many of our students over the years have explained that they were just so busy, so overwhelmed at work or at home with other perceived or actual priorities that they decided to delay their studies until the skies cleared a bit and they had more available time and energy. But that never happened. In fact, it got worse. The best time to find time for your commitments is almost always sooner than later. “Now” is best of all.
- And the final benefit is that you won’t experience the terrible stress that comes when you have too much to do and too little time to do it. Learning – especially training for ministry - should be a joy, not a task to be endured. Give yourself the time to relax and enjoy your seminary years. A little self-discipline and time management is often all it takes to transform your learning experience.
Now a final change for the fall semester that relates directly to your decision or ability to complete your coursework in a timely manner.
When life throws curve balls at you that are beyond your ability to handle, you may qualify for a course extension, upon written request, of up to 4 weeks in length. That policy has not changed. And you must still be able to demonstrate that you have made at least some progress in your course despite the circumstances. What is new, however, is that extensions could result in your being dropped from one or more courses in the next session if it is determined that you have not made satisfactory academic progress. If you are receiving federal financial aid, that, too, may be impacted adversely.
So clearly the best option is to make every effort to stay on schedule and to avoid extensions. If you are starting to fall behind, please talk to your course mentor or to Jon Raibley in our Online Campus offices. We are here to help you succeed and we have a lot of experience working with students who feel that they are “going down for the third time.”
This is a quick overview to highlight a few of the changes that have been made for the summer 2013 semester. If you have a question about these or any other concerns, please do not hesitate to call us or send us an email. You will find all the necessary contact information at our Online Campus website, http://www.westernseminary.edu/onlinecampus