Courses - Regular and Substantive Interaction

Guidance on what constitutes regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors.

Overview and Definitions

The UW-Madison credit hour policy states:

Generally, UW-Madison will follow the federal credit hour definition: one hour (i.e., 50 minutes) of classroom or direct faculty/qualified instructor instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks, or the equivalent engagement over a different time-period. 

Alternatively, a credit hour will be defined as the learning that takes place in at least 45 hours of learning activities, which includes time in lectures or class meetings, in-person or online, laboratories, examinations, presentations, tutorials, preparation, reading, studying, hands-on experiences, and other learning activities; or a demonstration by the student of learning equivalent to that established as the expected product of such a period of study. 

In all cases, learning in for-credit courses is guided by a qualified instructor and includes regular and substantive student-instructor interaction

The phrase “regular and substantive student-instructor interaction” comes from the federal definition of distance education. While regular and substantive student-instructor interaction is specifically mentioned in the definition of distance education, it is applicable to any class regardless of instructional modality.

Distance education means education that uses one or more of the technologies listed in bullets 1-4 below to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously. The technologies may include:

  1. The internet;
  2. One-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communications devices;
  3. Audio conferencing; or
  4. Video cassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs, if the cassettes, DVDs, or CD-ROMs are used in a course in conjunction with any of the technologies listed in paragraphs (1) through (3) of this definition.

The U.S. Department of Education included the phrase “regular and substantive student interaction" in the 2010 release of the credit hour definition but did not provide a definition. In September 2020, the U.S. Department of Education issued this definition: 

Substantive interaction is engaging students in teaching, learning, and assessment, consistent with the content under discussion, and include at least two of the following:

  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 institution’s 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 competency1; 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.
1. At least weekly for classes of six or more weeks or at least three times per credit for courses shorter than six weeks.

Importance of Regular and Substantive Interaction

Understanding what constitutes regular and substantive student-instructor interaction is important for several reasons, including:

  1. UW-Madison is not accredited to offer correspondence courses. The core feature that distinguishes a distance course from a correspondence course is the presence of regular and substantive student-instructor interaction. If the university is found to have offered correspondence courses sanctions may be imposed including substantial fines and a requirement to repay millions in federal financial aid dollars.
  2. Interaction with faculty and instructional staff is a key component of the high-quality education UW-Madison offers. It is key to providing every student with the Wisconsin Experience.

Strategies and Ideas for Incorporating Regular and Substantive Interaction

Instructors can use the following strategies and ideas to incorporate regular and substantive interaction:

Things to consider when writing for the regular and substantive interaction element of a syllabus:

  1. Are there multiple components in the course? If so, these provide an opportunity to articulate various ways that interaction happens between the instructor and the student.
  2. Expand on the credit hour rationale. If the course meets for regularly scheduled class time, what kind of instruction/interaction is happening during those periods? Are there group activities with the instructor that happen outside of scheduled class time? 
  3. What other kind of activities are happening in the course (assessment, tutoring, answering questions)?
  4. Are there specific program accreditation needs being met by elements of the course?
  5. Is the course on a predictable schedule? What piece(s) meet and how often?
  6. How is the instructor monitoring the learning of students? What happens if students are not succeeding in the course?
  7. Student to student learning is important, but how does the instructor facilitate/guide these conversations/learning?
  8. What is the overall picture? The sample syllabus should provide an indication about what is happening in the classroom. As this is a sample syllabus, what happens in the actual course may be different than what is reviewed through the course proposal process.

Examples of Regular and Substantive Interaction

Examples of What is Not Considered Regular and Substantive Interaction


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