The online course is as much like a traditional classroom course as we can make it in terms of content, course objectives, expectations, and desired results. However, the assignments and format are usually different. Rather than listening to a traditional lecture given in class, an online student will typically have more reading or interactive assignments as well as short videos to watch. However, a few of our online classes consist primarily of recorded on-campus lectures. These courses are clearly labeled "Flexible Access" or "Multi-Media with Recorded Video."

Most of our online classes are "Multi-Media" classes, and this is the kind that I teach. For instance, I use a number of PowerPoint presentations in my traditional class, verbally describing the pictures and elaborating on the notes. For my online course, I have typed much of what I say as captions for the PowerPoint slides. So, the same material is presented online as in my regular course. Sometimes I compose a portion of a classroom lecture in an article format in a Word for Windows document for the online student to read. I provide study questions as a good method to ensure the student comprehends the material in the primary textbook and other reading assignments.

Online professors might use links to other web sites for students to visit as part of their assignments. Some of these sites involve multimedia formats. Other assignments might include wikis, blogs, and self and peer assessments each fully explained to guide the student what to do.  

To replace the interaction students might have with each other in a regular class discussion, all online professors have a weekly threaded discussion question. Online students make several discussion postings throughout the week, commenting about each other’s postings. These postings are not time sensitive within the week, and students can post them at any time of the day or night—in any time zone! Many students find this interaction with each other to be the most enjoyable part of their online class experience.

Reading assignments for an online course are either the same or greater than they are for the traditional course. Other assignments, such as book reviews and a term paper, are usually the same for an online course as a traditional course. However, for an online course the term papers and book reviews are uploaded electronically. 

If a professor gives three exams in a regular class, he or she will usually give the same amount of exams for the online course. However, sometimes for an online course a professor will use written assignments rather than exams.

As much as possible the online course takes the same amount of time as the regular course which meets in a class. For a typical traditional classroom seminary course, for every one hour spent in class there is an additional two hours needed for preparation, assignments, and study. So, for a three-hour course, the student will spend an average of nine hours a week (including class time) for that course.

The online student will also spend about nine hours a week on a three-hour course. However, there is no distinction in an online course between time in class or outside of class. So, the nine hours of time is spent doing assignments such as: reading textbooks and taking notes, reading computer files and taking notes, discussing a non-time-sensitive weekly study question with other students, answering study questions, preparing a book review and/or term paper, and studying for the exams. Of course, the assignments will vary from week to week.

The bottom line is this: an online course is not easier, nor does it take less time than a regular course. Some students say it is harder than a regular course; most students say it is about the same. Most students taking their first online course say it takes more work than they originally thought it would; yet most of them had wrongly assumed online courses are short and easy.

Online courses offer some distinct advantages over traditional courses. First, the great advantage is geographic flexibility. A student can take an online course from anyplace in the world. Longitudes, latitudes, and time zones are not barriers to distance education! Second, time flexibility is a great plus. One’s time spent on the course is usually totally flexible within each week of study, so online courses fit any variety of unusual student schedules. If a local student needs this flexibility due to his/her employment then an online course is a good option. Otherwise, local students are encouraged to take traditional courses here at SWBTS. Third, online courses tend to be more interesting than traditional lecture courses due to the inherent variety of teaching methods and use of multimedia.

There are some unique challenges with online courses. An online student must be a self-motivator to keep up with the assignments—and not everyone is able to keep up with such demands. Another challenge is the lack of contact with the professor or other students that happens daily in a regular classroom. However, with discussion questions with other students as well as with the professor, there still is a certain amount of personal contact via the computer. Some online students find they have more frequent and in-depth theological discussions online with other students and the professor than they do in a traditional class.

In my personal online courses I try to keep the computer PowerPoint presentations informative, interesting, and fun. I believe the vast majority of my students who complete the course enjoy my online class. The ones who drop out are usually not self motivators.

Online courses have some distinct advantages that traditional courses do not offer. So, if you are a self-starter and have a need to take an online course, join us in cyber space for a SWBTS online experience.

Dr. Jim Wicker, Director of Web-Based Education, SWBTS