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Students’ Guide

This guide is applicable primarily to students enrolled on distance learning programs. Those studying on-campus will receive further detailed guidance from their respective campus authorities.

Welcome to your programme with the Western Orthodox University!

Together with the guidance of your Mentor, this Guide will give you the information required to get started on your programme, and see you successfully to the end. If you have queries not addressed by this Guide or your Mentor, please do contact the University.

In order to help you get off to a proper start, there are some things you need to consider. The list of general things to note below has been proven time and time again to be an excellent way to conduct the programme. Parts 1-3 are not meant to be prescriptive, more of a guide to how you could make the most out of your programme. Obviously, individual circumstances will dictate which of the items listed will be of use or possible, but generally you should be able to benefit from the advice provided.

Before you start – Rusty? Need focus?

We recommend highly Gary North’s two-week free online course designed to get you ready for an independent, self-motivated learning experience. If you have reservations about not being in college for a while or about the skills you will need, North’s course is the one to straighten you up and get you flying right. Access it and many more useful things here.

Some Introductory Study Skills

In the 1990s, Columbia Pacific University, one of our pioneering predecessors in person-centered, individualized learning, created an introductory course called “Origins: Perspectives on the Past” (HU421A). As well as being an interesting course, it is a relatively quick way to brush up your study skills and get acclimatized to distance learning. The course requires no previous knowledge. If you are unsure of whether distance learning is for you, working through the course may help you decide. If you are enrolled, but want to try out a course before getting started on your actual degree programme requirements, you can use HU421A with your Mentor to “dry run” your skills.

>>Course HU421A at Columbia Pacific University

Starting and Continuing your Programme

1. Make Contact with your Mentor

Your Mentor is your one-on-one guide throughout your programme. Upon assignment, your Mentor will give you his/her contact details and you can start making contact and planning the learning contract that will lead to completion of your programme. The Mentor will assess your work, provide feedback to aid your progress, and in effect will mentor you at every stage from matriculation to graduation.

You need to keep in regular touch with your Mentor (at least once a month) either by e-mail, or by any other means that your Mentor is happy to use. Do not assume your Mentor will “chase” you if you have not been in touch – it is your responsibility to maintain contact. Some Mentors are happy to communicate by telephone, in which case the student will bear the cost of the call. Usually email contact with an occasional phone conversation is an effective way to proceed. The initial months of the programme tend to be the most intense in terms of contact, although obviously for taught modular courses the contact will be more evenly balanced than in the planning and execution of a dissertation-based programme.

Please be sensitive as to the value of your Mentor’s time. Of course conversations will need to take place, but contact should be conducted in a spirit of efficiency. That said, you will likely find you have considerably more contact with your Mentor in the University’s programme than you would have in a face to face setting.

If you experience any difficulties in the Mentor/student relationship, please do try to work them out with your Mentor in the first instance. Mentors are chosen for their qualities of character as well as their other attributes, and have as their aim to support you and see you succeed. In the event of serious concerns, or unexpected inability to contact your Mentor, please contact the Chancellor via the University’s e-mail address.

The University expects Mentors to return student work, having assessed and commented on it, within thirty days of receipt from the student. This is a guideline rather than an absolute requirement, and in particular circumstances a different timeline may be applicable. However, if the student’s progress is delayed unreasonably by the Mentor’s return of student work, the University will usually extend the student’s period of study accordingly without requirement of additional fees, providing it has previously been informed of the issue.

The University cannot be held responsible for any delay caused by acts of God, the postal services, industrial action or civil disturbance in any country where the Mentor resides or where the University carries out its administration.

Your programme may mean that you will also contract independently with Mentors who are subject specialists in your area(s), such as workplace mentors. You will be responsible for managing this relationship and for ensuring that your Mentor can liaise with your subject specialist(s) so as to receive details of your work and to make arrangements for its assessment. Most of these subject specialists will be chosen from within your community, whether supervisors, co-workers, independent experts or others who are qualified to assist you. Particularly in the workplace, many supervisors will be happy to assist you without fee. However, if non-University mentors do decide to charge a fee for their supervision, you will be responsible for all such arrangements.

2. Make a Schedule

At an early stage of the programme you should plan a schedule both for work and for reading which will ensure that you complete your programme within the time you have laid down. Remember, the University sets no formal time limits for completion (provided you maintain steady progress or explain any significant periods of downtime), but it is to your advantage to ensure that you have a definite schedule to avoid “drift” and consequent dips in motivation.

If you fall behind your schedule, then do some extra work until the schedule is regained! Do bear in mind that it is quite easy to make up a little ground lost, but it will be also very easy to think of ‘reasons’ why the work may be postponed for just a few more days. You must at all times remain disciplined and conscientious.

3. Start Working

We present here a three-step plan telling you what you will need to do in order to complete your programme. You must also refer to and comply with the general and specific regulations for your degree at all times.

STEP ONE. Establish your programme aims and if necessary forward the resume and details you submitted at enrollment for the attention of your Mentor; you will probably wish in any case to expand on your learning experiences so that it is clear where prior and current learning may be found and what needs to be done to complete your programme. If not already done, submit your proposed degree title and major field to your Mentor, who, after approving them, will submit them in turn to the Master for University approval (this process must be repeated if these aspects change later in the programme).

Documenting prior learning

Some programmes involve the documentation of prior learning. This is always assessed by the University itself but your Mentor may well also be involved in the process of assessment.

Begin the process of documenting your prior and current learning and submitting it for degree credit, with your own recommendations as to credit weighting key in the process. Remember that what appears to be prior learning may in fact be current if it is being used and added to. Following the recommendations of the American Council on Education, every fifteen hours of experiential learning constitutes one credit hour in the American system. In the event that any disagreement concerning the credit weighting for particular experiences cannot be resolved, the Chancellor’s ruling shall be final.

Collect evidence for your learning achievement and submit it to the University. This should include the following items:

  • Transcripts and copies of diplomas from other postsecondary learning institutions, both prior to enrollment and earned during the programme. You must submit your existing original transcripts direct to your Mentor as soon as your matriculation is confirmed.
  • References and job descriptions for work-based learning, which will be verified.
  • Documentation of other learning experiences in the form of essays, musical scores and CDs, works of art (photographs, rather than originals, should be submitted), technical plans, lecture handouts, witness testimonies and almost any other form of hard evidence you can think of.

GOLDEN RULE: EVIDENCE EARNS CREDIT. Credit will not be given for unevidenced claims of learning. Even if the learning experience happened long ago, you can still document it in an essay. The Mentor will be on hand to help and guide in ensuring that you know what documentation is required of you in order to gain credit for a particular learning experience.

STEP TWO. Once the dissertation stage is reached, you should draft a summary proposal of the project (normally about 750 words, more if necessary to explain what will be involved). This must then be approved by your Mentor (who may well have helped you draft it) and sent on to the Chancellor for his approval. You should not start work until approval from the Chancellor is received.

It is often recommended that a good way to start to build up research towards an eventual dissertation is through an initial series of topic extended essays, literature reviews, written-up research notes etc. An extended piece of writing can feel daunting, and by breaking the process down into smaller fragments you will also ensure that any problems that arise are more easily corrected. Most Mentors will tend to work in this way, enabling you to create a bank of research from which the final phase will be “writing up” the actual dissertation from the existing resources.

In a number of cases, the University recommends that you convene a Panel of mentors to provide support for your project, consisting of subject experts and peers whom you contract with independently. As well as guidance through the writing process, the Panel is intended to provide an external assessment of the project, and they must be satisfied as to the level reached in order for this requirement to be signed off by your Mentor.  However, this element is not obligatory, and will not be appropriate for all types of candidature.

Your Mentor will be available to comment helpfully to you on your progress throughout your studies, as and when you need it. Mentors are asked to ensure that their summative comments on academic work and eventually on their final report as to whether the award should be made are looking for the positive throughout and responding holistically to what you have done.

STEP THREE. As you complete your programme, collect together the full portfolio, all corrected work such as essays, completed dissertation with panel evaluations, and your summative evaluation and acknowledgement of the learning resources used during and prior to enrollment. Ensure that you have assigned degree credit for all learning experiences in conjunction with your Mentor and the University.

After collation is complete, your Mentor will submit all materials to the University for final ratification.

Mentors are recommended to keep a copy of everything submitted (you are asked to submit two copies to your Mentor) and you are asked to do the same (in case of the loss or destruction of records). The University will contact you or your Mentor with any queries or referrals in the event of work that is sub-standard, and when all processes are complete, will issue your degree.

4. The Proper Way to Study Books

We accept many learning experiences at the University – many of which do not involve traditional book-based learning. However, at some point, most of you will want or need at least some component of orthodox study to complete your programme. Here’s how to do it.

First of all you must define a DESIGNATED STUDY AREA. This area should offer you a proper desk or table, and you should be seated on a good chair, not bed, couch or easy chair.

Have all relevant materials – pens, notepads, books etc. – handy in this area. Do not keep these items spread all over the place!

Keep the area clean and clear of any distracting elements, such as radio, TV, or food and drink. When you study you are ‘in school’ and you should put your mind into this particular framework.

Before you begin, determine how long you are going to be studying, depending on your programme schedule and external commitments, e.g. 2 hours per day, 10 hours per week or similar. As mentioned above, making this schedule is highly advisable. Make certain that you will be undisturbed during these times. Stick to this decision. What you are doing is an important investment in your future, and should be treated as such.

At the end of each study period, take a break. When you start reading again, re-read the last few pages, in order to maintain a good flow. Always take notes, even if you use a highlighter. The notes will help you in your next session, when you read the same text summarily.

ONLY STUDY WHEN YOU FEEL YOU CAN CONCENTRATE. This does not mean ‘when you feel like it’, however. The point is this: Even if your schedule requires you to read now, there will be times when things do not really seem to ‘sink in’. Take a break. But make certain you make up for lost studying time later.

Any reading done on the train or bus, during breaks at work, or under any other circumstances than directly related to your schedule and designated work area, should only be considered as back-up study. You should expect your level of perception to be lower at such times, and the need for rehearsing will therefore be higher.

For Major Projects and undergraduate assignments, refer to this external (and excellent) Guide for style, structure and general tips. Quite a few Major Projects – particularly those with creative and practical elements – will only peripherally resemble the precepts of the Guide – this is why you have the opportunity to present a project proposal for University approval. We are open to the unorthodox and will accept any academically valid approach.

Most important of all: Study when you feel up to it, when your desk is tidy, when you are undisturbed – but STUDY.

5. Your Work

Once you have completed your essay assignment, dissertation etc., send it direct to your Mentor by the method the two of you have agreed. It is suggested that while waiting for a reply, you should begin work on the next element of your programme, thereby ensuring a continuity of work, which is an essential discipline for the determined student. DO NOT, however, make any further submissions until you have received your Mentor’s reply to the previous submission.

In sending all work by mail to your Mentor, if that is your chosen method, you must enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope suitable for its return to you. You, the student, bear the costs of postage, not your Mentor. This also applies for postal communications with the University. You will be billed for any unmet postage costs. Please use standard postage as the default option; any additional service is at your discretion and cost.

As you are sending materials remotely by mail, e-mail and perhaps fax, we must face the inevitable fact that occasionally an item in the post will be delayed or even lost. Where possible you should always make copies of any item you send so that duplicates can be produced without any difficulty. Also, if you do not receive a reply from your Mentor within a reasonable time – depending on where you live, but generally up to 30 days of sending your assignment to them – you should contact your Mentor firstly, and then if still no reply, the University, and query the position.

6. Rules for Written Work Presentation

All papers, essays, portfolio elements etc. must have a title page showing:

  • Your name
  • Your address
  • Your agreed degree title and major
  • What the assignment is and what its role is in your overall portfolio (for example: specific part of prior learning assessment)
  • Title of paper (where relevant)
  • Name of Mentor
  • Date submitted

If your assignment does not have a title page, it may not be presented for assessment!

7. If you have problems

If you experience problems during your programme, you should not hesitate to approach your Mentor. If you feel that this has failed to resolve the problem, you should then refer it to the University’s administration.

The University is committed to offering students reasonable support to achieve their academic goals. This is a two-way process. It is essential that the student recognizes that a high academic standard must be met in order to satisfy the University’s requirements, and that this will require self-motivation, hard work and effort in terms of content and presentation.

8. Resources on how to write good essays

You may find the following external resources on writing good essays useful.
Kathy Livingston’s Guide to Writing a Basic Essay
CollegeBoard Guide to Essay Skills – although this is focussed on applications, the advice is useful for all essays
Liverpool Hope University guide to essay writing
James Cook University Essay Writing guide

9. Freedom of expression

The University is founded on the principle of complete freedom of expression and inquiry. There is no attempt made to shield students from ideas they may find difficult, disagreeable, unpleasant or offensive in the course of academic study, though a distinction is made between the discussion of challenging matters in an academic context and the civility that is expected to characterize discourse between students, Mentors and academic specialists within that context. This should be seen as part of a culture at the University that is open, tolerant and that promotes mutual respect at all times.