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:
- The internet;
- One-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communications devices;
- Audio conferencing; or
- 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:
- Providing direct instruction;
- Assessing or providing feedback on a student’s coursework;
- Providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course or competency;
- Facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency; or
- 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:
- 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
- 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:
- 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.
- 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:
- Design your course from the ground up to integrate strategic points for instructor interaction.
- Regardless of modality, have a course schedule that includes written assignment due dates, exam dates, readings, and other assignments as relevant. Ensure that there are predictable opportunities for feedback throughout the semester.
- Develop a communication plan to help guide and manage your interactions.
- Regular and substantive interaction must occur between students and the qualified instructor(s). This may be supplemented, but not replaced, by interaction between students and teaching assistants or other program staff.
Things to consider when writing for the regular and substantive interaction element of a syllabus:
- 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.
- 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?
- What other kind of activities are happening in the course (assessment, tutoring, answering questions)?
- Are there specific program accreditation needs being met by elements of the course?
- Is the course on a predictable schedule? What piece(s) meet and how often?
- How is the instructor monitoring the learning of students? What happens if students are not succeeding in the course?
- Student to student learning is important, but how does the instructor facilitate/guide these conversations/learning?
- 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
- Participation in regularly scheduled learning sessions (where there is an opportunity for direct interaction between the student and the qualified instructor).
- Provide personalized comments (in any medium) for an individual student’s assignment or exam.
- Actively facilitate an online discussion.
- Instructor posts announcements, email, or social media check-ins about academic aspects of the class.
- Provide an overview video to accompany recorded lectures.
- Identify students struggling to reach mastery through observation of discussion activity, assessment completion, or even user activity and offer additional opportunities for interaction.
- Use of small working/study groups that are moderated by the instructor.
Examples of What is Not Considered Regular and Substantive Interaction
- Assignment of recorded webinars, videos, and reading materials if the course design does not require the students to review the assigned material and then interact with the instructor
- Contact with instructors not related to the course subject matter.
- Adding numeric grades to the course gradebook
- A student submits a quiz that is automatically graded.
- Sending a welcome message during the first week of class and another around mid-semester.
- Encouraging students to participate in an optional, one-time online review session before the final exam.
- Reminding students of the course attendance policy.
- Posting an announcement about an upcoming assignment deadline.
- Providing an open-ended online forum that is not moderated by the instructor.