Regular and Substantive Interaction

Regular and Substantive Interaction

The U.S. Department of Education requires that all online courses for which students may receive federal financial aid “involve regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors.”

Ensuring regular and substantive interaction is consistent with the University’s best practices on online course design and delivery.

The University’s Online Teaching Essentials (OTE) provides faculty with foundational skills and fundamental concepts for creating a successful high quality student learning experience. OTE models how to form a learning community to increase student motivation and engagement, powerful practices for feedback and presence, and skills for facilitating and managing online/hybrid course to ensure a high quality online learning experiences for students.

The OTE course provides faculty with the necessary information for the University to comply with federal guidelines.

New Requirements for Online Instruction Effective July 1, 2021

  • Instructors must engage in at least two forms of substantive interaction during each course. The interaction must be regular, scheduled, predictable and must be substantive (focused on the course subject).
  • Instructors must monitor each student’s engagement and substantively engage with students on the basis of that monitoring and be responsive to students’ request for instructional support.
  • For  asynchronous courses students must be required to perform educational activities demonstrating academic engagement during each week.
  • Monitoring a student’s ‘‘academic engagement and success” may include:
    • Evaluating a student’s level of participation in synchronous class sessions
    • Monitoring the student’s activity on course websites or materials;
    • Considering the quality of the student’s coursework or understanding; or
    • Other forms of monitoring the student’s engagement and success

Characteristics of Regular and Substantive Interaction

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 competency; 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.

Initiated by the Instructor

Student participation and outreach is always welcome by faculty, but to count as “regular and substantive” interactions must be faculty driven:

  • You post a question and actively facilitate a group discussion
  • You reach to a student and ask them to schedule an appointment with you
  • You provide personalized feedback to an assignment submitted by a student

Not Initiated by the Instructor:

  • Student reaches out during regularly scheduled office hours
  • You post a grade
  • Student submits a quiz that is automatically graded
  • Students permitted to complete coursework in a self-paced, independent study format

Frequent and Consistent

Interactions with students should be reasonably frequent and consistent throughout the semester. For classes taught asynchronously interactions must be weekly.

  • Routine posting of announcements or course specific messages
  • You actively facilitate a required online discussion
  • You hold a required online review session every other week during the semester.

Not Frequent and Consistent:

  • You send a welcome message first week of class
  • You encourage students to participate in an optional one-time only review session before the final exam
  • Majority of your course assignments are due at the end of the semester
  • Providing an open-ended online forum that is not moderated by the instructor.

Focused on the Course Subject

Interaction should be connected to the course subject matter and contribute to the students’ progress towards course learning objectives.

  • Sending a message previewing concepts introduced in the next unit and sharing questions for students to consider with next reading assignment
  • You post a real life example to illustrate a course concept

Not Focused on Course Content:

  • You remind students of attendance policy
  • You post an announcement about an assignment deadline

How Can You Engage In Regular and Substantive Interaction?

Regular and substantive interaction can be incorporated into an online course in a variety of ways. Below are just a few to consider:

  • Set clear expectations for regular or mandatory interaction in the syllabus
  • Actively participate in regularly scheduled learning sessions (where there is an opportunity for direct interaction between the student and the qualified instructor)
  • Post course announcements, send emails, or other messages in support of instruction at regular intervals throughout the semester
  • Provide an overview video to accompany recorded lectures
  • Design and incorporate scaffolded assignments in which students have the opportunity to revise and resubmit assignments based on instructor’s feedback
  • Create intentional space for student-faculty dialogue, not just direct instruction from instructor to student
  • Use small working/study groups that are moderated by the instructor
  • Provide timely, individualized feedback on student work including personalized comments for an individual student’s assignment or exam
  • Actively facilitate online discussions and chats
  • Regular instructor-initiated communication with individual students concerning course content
  • Use the interactive features available in Canvas at scheduled intervals throughout the semester


Additional Support for Incorporating Regular and Substantive Interaction 

Remote Pedagogy Fundamentals Course

The Office of Online Learning and Services, Center for Teaching and Learning, and University Libraries have created the Remote Pedagogy Fundamentals (RPF) course to support faculty teaching online and hybrid formats. This course provides faculty with ongoing access to suggestions for how to incorporate regular and substantive interaction in their courses. 

RPF has been developed specifically to provide St. John’s faculty with an opportunity to acquire basic skills for teaching in a virtual environment. This six hour self-paced asynchronous course allows faculty to explore best practices for creating an inclusive and engaging virtual learning environment. Content modules include shifting to a remote teaching and learning mindset; inclusive teaching strategies; and designing and teaching a remote course that facilitates engaged student learning. The use of technology as a tool to facilitate student engagement and learning is emphasized and suggestions are provided to assist faculty in thinking through effective course design using technology.

The course also models best practices by engaging the faculty-learner through self-reflection journal prompts, self-check exercises, and discussion prompts, in addition to providing suggestions for professional development “next steps” and a bank of for-further-exploration resources.

To access Remote Pedagogy Fundamentals:

  • Log into
  • Click on the Canvas button
  • Click on Courses, scroll down and click on All Courses
  • Scroll down this alphabetical list until you see Remote Pedagogy Fundamentals listed
  • Click on the title and you will enter the course

New Definitions Effective July 1, 2021

Distance education: (1) Education that uses one or more of the technologies listed in paragraphs (2) (i) through (iv) of this definition to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor or instructors and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor or instructors, either synchronously or asynchronously… 


The technologies that may be used to offer distance education include: (i) The internet; (ii) One-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communications devices; (iii) Audio conference; or (iv) Other media used in a course in conjunction with any of the technologies listed in paragraphs (2) (i) through (iii) of this definition


(3) For purposes of this definition, an instructor is an individual responsible for delivering course content and who meets the qualifications for instruction established by an institution’s accrediting agency.

Academic engagement

Active participation by a student in an instructional activity related to the student's course of study that

(1) Is defined by the institution in accordance with any applicable requirements of its State or accrediting agency;

(2) Includes, but is not limited to: (i) Attending a synchronous class, lecture, recitation, or field or laboratory activity, physically or online, where there is an opportunity for interaction between the instructor and students; (ii) Submitting an academic assignment; (iii) Taking an assessment or an exam; (iv) Participating in an interactive tutorial, webinar, or other interactive computer-assisted instruction; (v) Participating in a study group, group project, or an online discussion that is assigned by the institution; or (vi) Interacting with an instructor about academic matters; and

(3) Does not include, for example (i) Living in institutional housing; (ii) Participating in the institution's meal plan; (iii) Logging into an online class or tutorial without any further participation; or (iv)  Participating in academic counseling or advisement.

Regular Interaction

(5) 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: (i) 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 competency; and (ii) 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.

Download New Federal Requirements for Distance Education: Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)