The advent of the Internet and inexpensive home computers now make it possible for Ratchford College to deliver college courses through the mediation of these new technologies. No longer is it necessary to live near or on the campus in order to gain many of the benefits of a Ratchford education. Nor are online students required to be at a particular place and time. Consequently, many students who formerly were unable to attend Ratchford University because of job or family responsibilities can now obtain that experience while sitting at a computer in the comfort of their home.

In an online class, students receive and in most cases transmit their assignments over the Internet. Taking an online class is very similar to doing an independent study in the traditional college setting. Students work largely on their own, but some interaction with fellow students and with the instructor may be required. These interactions take place through the use of email, electronic bulletin boards, and real-time chats. Students can contact their instructor by email or by phone if they have questions or are in need of additional assistance. Some online instructors may require that one or more of the major exams be taken in the presence of a third party (i.e., an exam proctor). In these cases, the exam would be mailed to the exam proctor who would then mail the completed exam back to the instructor for grading.

Online courses usually have textbooks (purchased online) with required readings as in a traditional class. In a synchronous online course, assignments are due at scheduled dates as specified in the course syllabus and all the students in the class progress through the course together. In asynchronous courses, students proceed through courses independently and with only the constraint of a final completion date. Whether the online course is synchronous or asynchronous, the online student has greater flexibility than in a traditional classroom.

This is not to suggest that the traditional college experience is totally without merit. To the contrary, there is no substitute for the life-long interpersonal relationships developed by a student living and attending classes at a college like Ratchford University. Face to face encounters between students and between students and their professors can never be duplicated over a telephone line no matter how advanced the technology. The opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities like bible studies, campus clubs, and just conversations around the lunch table or in the dorm rooms have no exact technological equivalents. For many students, the choice will not be an online education or a traditional education, but rather both. That is, many students will choose to live on campus at least for part of their education and to still take some online classes. The best of both worlds will be to live on campus and to simultaneously take one or more online classes.

Before a student registers for an online course, they should examine their own personal preferences and work habits. Are you self-motivated? Do you like working on your own? Do you easily complete your assignments on time? If your answers to these questions were "yes", then you will probably do well in an online class. If not, you may need the stimulus of the classroom at a residential college like Ratchford University in order to be successful.

Most online courses at Ratchford Online make use of the Blackboard course management system. In metaphorical terms, a course management system is an envelope in which an online course is developed, administered, and delivered. Students taking their first online course will want to spend some time learning to navigate around a Blackboard course. Consequently, all Ratchford students are required to complete a brief introduction (i.e., the Online Orientation) before they are allowed to request their first online class.

Students new to online learning will want to consider whether they have the necessary computer skills, equipment, and software to take a course over the Internet. Just as important, new online students need to assess whether they will be comfortable in an online environment. In conjunction with several colleges and universities we have developed an online self-assessment quiz to help potential online students with these questions. Take the Online Self Evaluation test here.

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Ratchford University 2003