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In a recent revision to the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the U.S. Department of Education has elaborated a requirement for instructed online courses offered by colleges and universities participating in Title IV funding. This includes regular and substantive interaction (already an acronym! RSI). This means courses where the professor proactively engages with students during the course, and students must regularly participate in course activity and meet course deadlines. Canisius College online courses must exhibit RSI, in order for Canisius students to be eligible for federal financial aid.

It is helpful to understand RSI by describing an alternative: correspondence courses that are self-paced and in which an instructor – or “subject matter expert,” “facilitator,” or really caretaker takes a passive role. Correspondence courses are not eligible for federal financial aid. Subject matter experts may develop such courses and star in recorded lectures. Possibly, someone grades student work, or grading may be automated. In correspondence courses, someone may answer occasional student questions if and as they come in.

At Canisius College, our online classes are not correspondence courses, but instead are properly instructed or taught by active faculty. RSI requirements are great practices for any online teaching, and are familiar to anyone teaching online courses at Canisius.

You can read more about RSI requirements, and suggestions to meet them, at this link.

No list is complete, as there are many fantastic ways to interact with your students using technology available on the internet. That said, here are some quick basics, with tips on how to promptly align your course with RSI:

All courses require Regular interaction.  This includes

  1. Good course design: repetitive and well-documented organization of content and activities.
  2. Frequent (ex. weekly) instructor-initiated communications, starting with a course orientation and including weekly orientations.
  3. Frequent assignments, with individual feedback to students.
  4. Use of the D2L gradebook to monitor and help students monitor their own progress.
  5. Course pace enforced with start dates on content and regular deadlines for assignments.
  6. Regular office hours (via Zoom or D2L chat) posted on your syllabus.
  7. If a student has not logged in or participated in the course in over a week, email them.

All courses require at least two forms of Substantive Interaction.  This means

  • Direct instruction: Synchronous teaching via Zoom, live chat, or similar realtime remote technology.
  • Assessing or providing feedback on student’s work.  See the third and fourth points above; frequent, helpful and actionable feedback to students beyond just numerical grade scores.  An instructor should monitor student engagement through assessments and participation in course activities.
  • Providing information or responding to questions regarding the content of a course or competency.  Scheduled office hours (via Zoom), Course FAQs, prompt replies to student emails, course and weekly orientations, and excellent course documentation all contribute to this.
  • Facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency.  Assign regular asynchronous discussions, and participate in them yourself.

Substantive interaction may involve many other options than just those above.  What the DoE seeks is proactive participation by the instructor during the course, rather than just course-building, caretaking, and answering student questions.  In synchronous courses, discussion meetings via Zoom can help satisfy RSI although exclusively lecturing via Zoom is insufficient.

We discuss these at greater length in our Online Faculty Development Course, Online Updates workshops, weekly emails and newsletters, and other faculty development. More importantly, we offer a greater variety of tools and options so you are not just limited to the above. As always, you can email us with specific questions about online teaching methods and technology.

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Submitted by: Tyler J. Kron-Piatek, academic technologist, COLI