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CTOL: Teaching Online



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Teaching Online

This page includes information about online teaching guidelines and resources to get support in building and teaching your online classes. If you are teaching an online class, please review the rules regarding Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) below.

Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)

Recent Definitions

Adapted from materials provided by University of Houston

The U.S. Department of Education has issued Final Rules on Distance Education and Innovation which go into effect on July 1, 2021. Under the new regulations, the U.S. Department of Education requires that all online courses and programs for which students may use federal financial aid include regular and substantive interaction between students and their instructors. This ruling applies to both synchronous and asynchronous courses, with the primary focus being asynchronous courses. 

The Department of Education defines “substantive interaction” as “engaging students in teaching, learning and assessment, that is consistent with the course content under discussion, and includes at least two of the following every week:

  1. Attending a synchronous class, lecture, recitation, or field or laboratory activity, physically or online, where there is an opportunity for interaction between the instructor and students;
  2. Submitting an academic assignment;
  3. Taking an assessment or an exam;
  4. Participating in an interactive tutorial, webinar, or other interactive computer-assisted instruction;
  5. Participating in a study group, group project, or an online discussion that is assigned by the institution;
  6. Interacting with an instructor about academic matters; and
  7. Required discussion forum activity.

Most faculty will realize that you already do these things! The key is including your plans for RSI in your syllabus and then – at minimum – following those plans (you can always add more interaction). 

And, as always, please contact the CTOL staff if you need help or advice.

Four Elements of Regular and Substantive Interaction

This introduction is adapted from materials provided by Ohio State University. 

Over time and through the gathering of various interpretations, "regular and substantive interaction" is defined by four elements:

  • Interaction initiated by instructor: While in distance courses students have a heightened responsibility to take ownership of their learning, the faculty presence, guidance, and initiation of contact is critical. In distance courses, the flow, sequence, and deadlines of the course must be directed by the instructor and the timing of the course set through use of learning activities, online discussion, lectures, etc. In comparison, in correspondence courses students submit work when they finish it and initiate questions when they have them with little or no guidance from the instructor.
  • Initiation of interaction must be scheduled, regular, and frequent: This element is probably one of the least defined of the bunch. Interaction must be scheduled and included in the syllabus; this doesn’t mean every interaction has to be planned ahead, but that students will know approximately what to expect and how often to expect it. Interaction should happen on a reliable schedule with frequency. Many institutions suggest a minimum of a weekly interaction as a baseline.
  • Interaction must be meaningful or of an academic nature: Essentially, the interaction should lead toward increased learning and might consist of things like:
    • Regularly scheduled synchronous activities.
    • Facilitating a study group or online discussion forum.
    • Facilitating faculty-guided independent study.
    • Announcements, email, or social media check-ins initiated by the instructor about aspects of the course, additional guidance, etc.
  • Interaction must be initiated by academic personnel who meet accrediting body standards: Essentially, interaction should be initiated by someone who is qualified to do so as it relates to the subject matter. At Ohio State, this would fall to qualified faculty or those who meet similar requirements of faculty, lecturers, instructors, etc. For competency-based programs this has been defined by the HLC as "appropriate academic credentials and experience in the applicable knowledge domain."

The Plain and Simple

Distance Education can only be successful with a strong instructor presence and regular constructive interactions with qualified faculty. The myth that online learning is a solitary experience is from an earlier day when we knew much less about how people learn and succeed online. Now we know more, and the regulatory bodies are driving higher quality interactions and experiences.

Knowing this, here's what you can do as a faculty member:

  • Design your course from the ground up to integrate strategic points for faculty interaction, perhaps on a weekly basis.
  • Develop a communication plan to help guide and manage your interactions.
  • Set up regular announcements to go out automatically at strategic points.
  • Identify students struggling to reach mastery through observation of discussion activity, assessment completion, or even user activity and offer additional opportunities for interaction.

More Reading on RSI

Canvas 101

Starting up with a new Learning Management System can be daunting. If you're transitioning from another LMS, you'll have questions about how to do things you already know; if you're new to online instruction, you need a quick path to get your course up and running. The State Board for Technical & Community colleges offers a fully-featured Canvas training, about 20 hours of facilitated asynchronous learning designed for faculty and staff who have never used the Canvas learning management system or who are just getting started using Canvas.