Submit a Suggestion
Suggestion Box

 

CETL | Canvas | Online | Software | Teaching | Tech-4-Teach | Workshops


Online Pedagogy

Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)

Online Excellence


What is “Regular and Substantive Interaction", and why is it important to online learning?


One of the greatest challenges facing instructors and institutions alike involves the expectation of interaction and engagement in online classes.

While online learning can take many forms, there is a general and categorical distinction between correspondence education and distance education.

  • Courses and programs that are self-paced, solitary, and independent of student and faculty interaction are commonly referred to as correspondence education. Independent Study in Idaho (ISI), for example, currently follows the correspondence course model.
  • By contrast, distance education programs, such as those promoted by the University of Idaho as “online” courses and programs, are designed to replicate, parallel, or enhance the characteristics of interaction and engaged learning common in on-site courses and programs, despite being asynchronous. 1

The purpose of this document is to clarify an increasingly salient and critical aspect of online learning that effects all of higher education: the requirement of “regular and substantive interaction”.

Ensuring that online courses and programs include “regular and substantive interaction” is important for three reasons: (1) federal loans such as Title IV financial aid, cannot be applied to correspondence courses, (2) institutional accreditation requires evidence of interaction in the assessment of online courses and programs, and (3) interactive learning experiences are positively associated with student retention and success.

The phrase “regular and substantive” is admittedly vague. In the absence of dictated practices, colleges and universities have latitude to fill the void. To help, the Western Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) has worked with the Department of Education to clarify the meaning of “regular and substantive” interaction. Based on this work, and the definition of distance education in Title 34/Subtitle B/Chapter VI/Part 600/Subpart A/subsection 600.2, "regular and substantive interaction" requires 2:

  1. Instructor-initiated interaction
    1. Whereas interaction in correspondence courses can, for example, be satisfied by student-initiated work that faculty respond to (questions asked, assignments submitted, etc.), interaction in distance education courses emphasize faculty-initiated and involved instructional effort, engagement, and interaction.
  2. Regular interaction
    1. This means consistent or frequent interaction as opposed to self-paced independent work.
      1. Consider a pattern of instructor-initiated interaction whereby the faculty member routinely establishes a presence in the sequence and presentation of, and response to, learning activities, materials, and engagements.
  3. Substantive interaction
    1. Substantive, here, means of an academic nature.
      1. The interactions must be academically relevant and meaningful. Consider the difference between timely and meaningful feedback and merely submitting a grade: the former is an example of academically relevant interaction; the latter is not.
  4. Qualified instructors
    1. This seems obvious, but the instructor of record must possess the qualifications required by institutional policies, in compliance with relevant accrediting bodies.

Clarifying the requirements further,

  • “Regular” pertains to patterns of interaction:
    • The flow of the class.
    • The sequence of learning experiences.
    • The frequency and predictability of instructor-led interaction.
      • Think of the narrative arc of learning experiences in a given class and pace interactions and engagements regularly throughout the semester.
      • There is not a fixed requirement for interaction, such as weekly communication. Courses have different structures and, again, the Department of Education and regional accreditors do not dictate these terms.
  • “Substantive” interaction should include at least two of the following practices:
    • Providing direct instruction, which requires instructor presence.
      • Pre-recorded video lectures may be part of the solution, but they alone do not satisfy this category. Examples satisfying this category:
        • Video lectures that include a discussion designed to supplement and enhance the learning experience.
        • Providing timely, meaningful, and individualized feedback to student responses and engagements.
      • Providing regular office hours and being available during those hours can fulfill part of the expectation of regular interaction.
    • Assessing or providing timely and meaningful feedback on a student’s course work.
      • Providing only a grade does not count towards this category; it is the feedback that counts.
        • Timely, meaningful, and individualized feedback, consistent with existing institutional priorities in conjunction with ASUI is a good example of a satisfactory solution.
    • Providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course, a skill, the learning process, or a competency.
    • Facilitating group discussion regarding the content of a course or the learning processes, skills, or competencies associated with it.
    • Other instructional activities approved by the institution and/or program’s accrediting agency.

As a guiding principle, please be sure to build “regular and substantive interaction" into your distance education courses and programs. Be predictable, be available, engage your students, and remember: Carolyn, Sean, Doug, and Brian of CETL are here to help every step of the way.


1 At the University of Idaho, asynchronous online courses are defined as Classes taught asynchronously online using Canvas. These courses do not have a regularly scheduled meeting time. It may be helpful to note that class discussions --even in faceto-face classes-- are iterative, and typically characterized by back-and-forth messaging. Think about conversation and the Socratic method: people tend to take turns speaking. In online classes, the time frame between exchanges is simply longer.

2 For a quick guide to easy-to-adopt interaction techniques, please visit:
Interpreting what is Required for “Regular and Substantive Interaction”



Regular and Substantive Interaction Strategies


  (Enlarge Image)

Regular Interaction

Initiated by Instructor

  • Provide instructor communication, including the preferred mode of communication
  • Send individualized emails
  • Ask a student to visit during office hours
  • Provide general feedback: provide meaningful feedback where students are both performing well & where they need improvement
    • Use course rubrics and gradebook written comment areas to provide timely feedback on learning activities/assessments
    • Record audio or video comments
    • Insert comments directly into a document and upload the document into the feedback area for students to review
  • Participate in instructor-facilitated discussion forums
  • Post announcements to communicate about aspects of the course
  • Create a forum and topic specifically for questions about the course content.
  • Post a Welcome Message
  • Provide an introduction to the course and instructor
  • Set clear expectations for interaction in the syllabus

Frequent and Consistent

  • Schedule and facilitate a study group, open lab, or virtual office hours
  • Send weekly announcements
  • Provide introductions to units or modules
  • Provide weekly summaries or highlights of discussion posts
  • Provide regularly scheduled online review or help sessions
  • Provide feedback to students at least on one assignment per week
  • Provide video presentations

Substantive Interaction (focused on course subject)

  • Present course content through Canvas modules
  • Give students a specific timeframe describing when to expect feedback for assignments & online interaction
  • Give students a specific timeframe describing when to expect email replies/ correspondence
  • Provide a video tutorial explaining course navigation, introduction to the course, etc.
  • Send announcements previewing or reviewing difficult content
  • Send an email or announcement previewing concepts introduced in the next unit and listing questions for students to have in mind when reading the textbook chapters
  • Provide an overview video to accompany recorded lectures
  • Provide course materials that facilitate interactions between student(s) and instructor and require the student to contact the instructor or participate in an online discussion moderated by the instructor. These types of materials include instructor-prepared lectures (live or recorded), podcasts, or other forms of addressing course content and topics, presented in an appropriate format for the subject such as written documents, audio and/or video files.
  • Communicate the objective of the assignment and the intended learning outcome(s)
  • Offer group learning activities, such as peer review opportunities, group projects, or presentations
  • Design and incorporate scaffolded assignments in which students have the opportunity to revise and resubmit assignments based on the instructor’s feedback
  • Post office hours, including virtual office hours in Canvas
  • Initiate contact with students who have fallen behind on coursework in a timely manner
  • Discussion posts illustrating real-world applications of course concepts. Example: Post an example from last night’s Mariners game in the course’s ‘Real-World Physics’ discussion to illustrate the concept of coefficient of restitution


Building/Sustaining Presence, Community, & Engagement

Providing a sense of community is critical in online classes and can often be the difference between student success and attrition. Please check out the CETL Fall 2022 presentation which covers strategies to help strengthen the Social Presence, Cognitive Presence, and Teacher Presence in an online class.

Building and Sustaining Presence, Community, and Engagement
in Online Courses
(30 min) by Carolyn Raynor
Slides | Handout: Developing Online Community Strategies



Five TIPs for Teaching a Fully Online Course

Education OnlineOnline courses occur completely on the Internet where students access instructions and all course materials (lectures, assignments, resources, etc.). Here are some tips to consider when teaching a fully online class.

1. Finish before you start

Plan, design, and finish building your online course before opening it to your students. Just as you wouldn’t build an airplane as it’s flying; it’s not a good idea to be building your online course as you teach it.

2. Provide clarity

Provide clear navigation for your course, and be clear with your students on the course requirements, including how they should participate, coursework, due dates, and your evaluation criteria.

3. Monitor your students

Keep an eye on grades and in discussion forums for students who are “hibernating.” Look for students who may be missing deadlines. They might be experiencing difficulties navigating the course and material. They may be able to catch up on their own, though in many instances they are at risk for dropping the course. If you see a student faltering, go ahead and contact them to find out what’s going on, so you can work together to find a solution.

4. Be present

Students like to know you exist and are actively engaged in their education. Make your presence known in class at least four to five days during the week with announcements, responding to questions, and participating in discussions (but don’t cap them), and providing feedback and guidance. Tell students when to expect a response to their questions (e.g. within 24 or 48 hours) and do your best to meet that.

5. Provide timely feedback

While speedy feedback is ideal, grading complicated assignments may take more time. Tell your students when longer response times might occur, so they will know when to expect feedback, and can be understanding of the various demands on your time.



Provide Online Students w/ access to Campus Software




Resources for Online

  1. The New Rules of Engagement: How to create a vibrant online classroom The Chronicle of Higher Education
  2. How to Align Your LMS With the Science of Learning Edutopia
  3. Teaching Strategies of Award-Winning Online Instructors Edutopia
  4. Beyond the Discussion Board Inside Higher Ed
  5. How to Be a Better Online Teacher The Chronicle of Higher Education
  6. Navigating the Never-Ending Online Course Cycle Inside Higher Ed
  7. I taught online courses and formed stronger relationships with my students eCampus News
  8. Online Learning 2.0 Inside Higher Ed
  9. Online Learning is Misunderstood. Here's How. The Chronicle of Higher Education
  10. Students' Perceived Areas for Improvement in an Online Learning Environment International Journal of Process Education
  11. What 6 Colleges Learned about Improving Their Online Courses The Chronicle of Higher Education
  12. Actively Engaging Students in Asynchronous Online Classes IDEA
  13. Same Time, Many Locations: Online Education Goes Back to Its Origins. The Chronicle of Higher Education


Our picks for best books on Online Pedagogy

  1. Darby, F., & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Linder and Hayes (2018) High-Impact Practices in Online Education: Research and Practices. Stylus.
  3. Garrison, D. R. (2017). E-learning in the 21st century: A community of inquiry framework for research and practice (3rd Ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.