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Regular and Substantive Interaction in Online Courses

In addition to being a requirement of the U.S. Department of Education for all online courses eligible for financial aid, regular and substantive interaction is just good teaching practice and is essential to an effective online learning experience.

What is “regular and substantive interaction”?

These interactions must be actively and intentionally launched by the instructor. In other words, office hours to which a student might decide to show up do not count. On the other hand, requiring students to make an appointment with you during office hours for individual conferences would count.

In addition, the instructor must initiate these interactions frequently and consistently throughout the semester. Sending weekly course-specific announcements or messages would qualify as frequent and consistent interaction. However, sending a welcome message at the beginning of the semester and one or two announcements or messages sporadically throughout the rest of the semester would not.

Finally, interactions should be focused on course content. For instance, posting an announcement previewing course concepts from the next unit or posing questions students should think about when they do the assigned readings would qualify as focusing on course content. Reminding students of the attendance policy or assignment due dates is not related to course content, so while this is helpful information, it is not in and of itself substantive interaction. In other words, reminding students of due dates shouldn’t be the only interaction you have with students in the online course.

How can I promote regular and substantive interaction in my online courses?

You have many options for promoting regular and substantive interaction between yourself and students in your online courses. The following are just a few strategies you could implement.
(For more details, see the “Where can I find more information?” section below.)

  • Set clear expectations for interaction in the syllabus
  • Send course announcements or other messages at regular intervals throughout the semester
  • Provide timely, individualized, and in-depth feedback on student work
  • Actively facilitate online discussions and chats
  • Conduct regularly scheduled online review sessions, tutorials, office hours, and/or individual appointments
  • Choose online tools and learning environments that make interactions easy – and easy to document
  • Collect mid-semester feedback from students
  • Ask for feedback from trusted colleagues

Where can I find more information?

For more details, including a list of relevant research on regular and substantive interaction in online courses, visit CITL’s guide to Regular and Substantive Interaction.

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