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Yavapai College Statement on Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) in Online Courses

YC’s mission is to enrich our community by providing accessible, quality workforce, transfer, lifelong, and cultural learning opportunities. Delivery is a key pillar of our mission and one of the goals of YC’s Strategic Plan. It is our privilege to provide students with the highest quality online learning experience possible.

According to HLC policy, which is built on the U.S. Department of Education regulations for distance education, distance education courses require regular and substantive interaction (RSI) between instructors and their students.  Substantive interaction in online courses refers to meaningful interactions between students and instructors that support learning outcomes. 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 activities:

  1. Providing direct instruction.
  2. Assessing or providing feedback on a student’s coursework.
  3. Providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course or competency. 
  4. Facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency; or,
  5. Other instructional activities approved by the institutions or program’s accrediting agency.

An institution ensures regular interaction between a student and an instructor or instructors by, prior to the student’s completion of a course or competency,

  1. Providing the opportunity for substantive interactions with the student on a predictable and scheduled basis commensurate with the length of time and the amount of content in the course or competency; and
  2. Monitoring the student’s academic engagement and success and ensuring that an instructor is responsible for promptly and proactively engaging in substantive interaction with the student when needed, on the basis of such monitoring, or upon request by the student.

What is Yavapai College Doing to Meet RSI?

To meet these requirements at Yavapai College, RSI is embedded into the YC Essential Design Standards (Standards 5.2 and 5.3), which are integral to the online course review process. The YC Essential Design Standards are based on the corresponding standards on the Quality Matters Rubric. Faculty use these design standards in the development of their online courses.

In addition, in their syllabus, faculty include information including clear expectations for interactions, how frequently students can expect to hear from the instructor, how quickly they can expect a response to questions, and how quickly they can expect feedback on work they submit. 

The Department of Education did not apply any prescriptive standards, but affirmed guidance that institutions should maintain policies or procedures that “create expectations for faculty to substantively interact with students.” 

For interactions to be considered RSI, they need to meet the following characteristics:

Regulations do not dictate what activities to use and how often to include them in the course to meet the RSI requirement. We can think of these regulations in terms of a scale as shown below that allows us to be flexible and creative when designing our online courses.

Source image: Online Learning Consortium, Inc. CC Attribution 4.0

Source image: Online Learning Consortium, Inc. CC Attribution 4.0.

Recorded video lectures on their own are not considered to be RSI, but if the recorded video lectures are followed by the discussion forums on the topics and issues raised in the videos, that would make them RSI. Auto-graded quizzes do not provide the opportunity for interactions and personalized feedback. If the instructor follows up with the extensive summary of the most common mistakes on the quizzes and provides additional instructional support and ways for students to reach out with questions, this will move these quizzes closer to RSI.

Recommendations for Promoting Regular and Substantive Interaction in Online Courses

There are many strategies for including RSI in online courses through course design, delivery techniques, and approaches. Course delivery components can be designed in advance and added as hidden course elements to support and guide instructors’ interaction with students.

Design Delivery
Course includes at least one  high-engagement activity within the first two weeks of class allowing students to get to know one another and begin to build community (I.e., Icebreaker discussion area where students introduce themselves, the first synchronous session where students introduce themselves, etc.). Instructor posts her/his introduction in this  high-engagement activity and actively participates in it.
Instructor-facilitated discussion forums are included throughout the course if applicable to the course context and outcomes. The discussions are designed to allow for the instructor to engage with students and students to engage with each other. Instructor regularly posts to course  discussion forums to pose guiding questions related to the course subject, propose counter points of view students may not be considering, establish connections among student’s ideas, and provide encouragement. Consider different discussion response techniques such as individual responses, summary responses or posting an announcement with the favorite ideas, most common misconceptions, counter points.
Learning activities/assessments that require timely instructor feedback via detailed rubrics and written comments. Instructor utilizes course rubrics and gradebook written comment areas to provide timely feedback on  learning activities/assessments. Feedback should communicate to students both their accomplishments and areas they may need to improve as well as concrete suggestions for actions students can take in the future to make progress in their learning.
Course includes  recorded lectures that are accompanied by the discussion forums or wikis or other activities allowing students to engage with the instructor about the content of the videos. Instructor participates in the learning activities that accompany  recorded lectures to provide additional instruction and clear up misconceptions.
Course utilizes online tools and environments that make  interactions easy to use and easy to document. Instructor utilizes the college approved and supported technology and tools built within the course to ensure that all the instructor-student and student-student  interactions are easy to use and easy to document.

Sample Syllabus Statement on RSI:

In this course, I will be available for students during scheduled student hours as stated in my course syllabus. I will also spend time each week facilitating discussions about course content, providing substantive feedback on assignments, responding to questions about the course, and posting announcements pertaining to the course content.

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This work is adapted from “Regular and Substantive Interaction” by Empire State University and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

***Approved by Faculty Senate 10/27/2023***

***Approved by Tom Bordenkircher 11/21/2023***

***Approved by Doug Berry 12/7/2023***

***Approved by Lisa Rhine 12/7/2023***