The U.S. Department of Education requires that all online course offerings must incorporate “regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors.”
On July 1, 2021, the DoE updated and clarified their definition of Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) stating that in order to be considered regular and substantive, an interaction “…must engage students in teaching, learning, and assessment, as well as two of these five actions:
- providing direct instruction;
- assessing or providing feedback on a student’s course work;
- providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course or competency;
- facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency;
- or other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency.”
Regular interaction is defined as on a “scheduled and predictable basis,” and must be initiated by the faculty member AND be concerning the course material.
In order for engagement within an online course to be defined as regular and substantive interaction (RSI), it is imperative that the interaction be initiated by the faculty member AND be concerning the course material.
In order to assure RSI, CCS requires that faculty spend a minimum of 5 days per week interacting with students and responding to course inquiries. This assures that any and all student activity is promptly responded to.
Student-teacher interactions are an integral piece of the learning environment here at CCS, and therefore are viewed as such in an online environment as well. Focusing on regular and substantive interaction in this mode of delivery, whether synchronous or asynchronous, not only maintains our compliance with the Department of Education, but delivers the quality of education consistent with what we’ve grown accustomed to at the college.
What Constitutes Regular and Substantive Interaction?
Understanding what constitutes regular and substantive interaction is crucial to the college and its faculty members for several reasons:
Maintaining appropriate accreditation—College for Creative Studies is not accredited to offer correspondence courses. As defined by the U.S. Department of Education, a correspondence course is: (1) A course provided by an institution under which the institution provides instructional materials, by mail or electronic transmission, including examinations on the materials, to students who are separated from the instructor. Interaction between instructors and students in a correspondence course is limited, is not regular and substantive, and is primarily initiated by the student. (2) If a course is part correspondence and part residential training, the Secretary considers the course to be a correspondence course. (3) A correspondence course is not distance education.
The differing feature between distance and correspondence courses is regular and substantive interaction. If courses are found to not maintain RSI, the Department of Education can levy substantial fines against the institution including the revocation of federal financial aid.
Maintaining the college’s educational standards— Maintaining regular and substantive interactions within online courses provides an environment for development of professional growth and networks, delivering greater value to our students in their area of study.
Fostering growth—The implementation of RSI gives instructors the ability to monitor the progress of individual students. Conversely, it shows the student how invested the faculty and staff are in their success.
Regular and Substantive Interaction must be:
- Initiated by the instructor
To fall within the standards set by the DoE, ‘regular and substantive,’ interactions must be initiated by the faculty member. All faculty should expect to maintain an active role in initiating and guiding a wide range of interactions with their students throughout the semester. Doing so ensures that these interactions are not optional and therefore become an integral part of your course.
Examples of RSI include:
- Scheduling Zoom meetings to discuss the individual student’s progress in the class.
- Posting a discussion board to reinforce concepts learned in the module’s lecture and actively responding to posts.
- A written critique on students’ work in progress.
- Asking a student to visit you during office hours or to schedule a phone call or videoconference with you.
- Posting weekly announcements and sending messages regarding learnings within the class.
- Holding a required online review session every other week during the semester.
- Sending a message previewing concepts introduced in the next unit and listing questions for students to have in mind when reading the course material.
- Identifying students struggling to reach mastery through observation of discussion activity, assessment completion, or even user activity and offer additional opportunities for interaction.
- Using working/study groups that are moderated by the instructor.
The important thing to note here is that each of these methods is initiated by the faculty member, AND are about the content being covered in the class.
Interactions NOT Considered RSI
Examples of interaction that are not considered regular and substantive:
- A student reaching out via email, phone, text for additional help.
- A faculty member checking in on a student’s well-being (although encouraged, this is not a form of RSI.)
- Optional/supplemental recorded webinars, videos, and reading materials.
- Contact with instructors not related to the course subject matter.
- Sending a welcome message during the first week of class and another around mid-semester.
- Reminding students of the course attendance policy.
- Providing an open-ended online forum that is not moderated by the instructor.
- A student dropping in during regularly scheduled open office hours.
- Adding grades to the course gradebook.
- Encouraging students to participate in an optional, one-time online critique session.
- Posting an announcement about an upcoming assignment deadline.
Strategies for offering Regular and Substantive Interaction
The following are thought starters for maintaining regular and substantive interaction in online courses. These should be used as guides as courses are planned and can be easily adapted to support the appropriate course objectives.
Set clear expectations for interaction in the syllabus
Setting communication standards and posting them in the course syllabus helps to set clear expectations with students regarding frequency of interaction, general availability, and timeframe for responses.
Send course announcements or other messages at regular intervals
Utilizing announcements to support instruction is an easy way to incorporate RSI into the online environment. Announcements can enhance and reinforce instruction, adding greater depth to lectures with current events/trends related to the topic.
Provide timely, individualized, and in-depth feedback on student work
In the online environment, feedback can take many forms: written comments, audio or video notes, individual conferences conducted in person or via online meeting tools, and so on. As with in-person classes, feedback must extend beyond simply assigning a grade or giving a short congratulatory comment such as “great work,” or “well done.” Appropriate critique communicates to students, both what they have accomplished and areas where they may need to improve. It also often offers examples and concrete suggestions for actions students can take in the future to make further progress in their learning. CCS requires that thorough feedback on assignments be provided within 7 days of submission in order to assure students are able to successfully proceed through the next assignment.
Actively facilitate online discussions and chats
The instructor should take an active role in discussion boards posted for the class. This is a great way to achieve substantive interaction and student engagement. A discussion board can be used to challenge students with questions related to the subject matter, open a dialog on relevant topics, encourage idea exchange, and so on. The instructor should be present in these conversations in order to provide greater depth to the course.
There are many ways to incorporate RSI into the classroom. The key is to be certain that the interactions are frequent, consistent, and focused on the course subject matter.
Resources for Incorporating Regular and Substantive Interaction