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Center for Instruction and Research Technology

Regular and Substantive Interaction: Meeting the Standards

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) mandates that online courses that receive Title IV funds must have both regular and substantive interaction (RSI) between students and instructors to promote student motivation and success. RSI requirements are based on the understanding that quality student-instructor interactions and instructor presence are essential components of an effective online course.

Courses that do not meet these RSI standards are considered “correspondence courses” and are not eligible for federal financial aid. UNF does not offer correspondence courses.

To ensure compliance with federal regulations, instructors can use the guidance and examples provided below to facilitate regular and substantive interaction in their online courses.


The DOE defines regular instructor-student interactions as those that are:

  1. Consistent and predictable, regularly occurring throughout the course.
  2. Appropriate in frequency, taking into account the length of the course and the amount of content and competency involved.
  3. Led by a qualified instructor who closely monitors student academic engagement and progress.
  4. Initiated either by the instructor, based on their observations of student engagement and success, or at the student’s request.


The DOE describes substantive interaction as “engaging students in teaching, learning, and assessment, consistent with the content under discussion, and includes at least two of the following; however, best practices in course design support the use of more than just one.”

  1. Offer direct instruction of course content.
  2. Assess and provide feedback on student coursework.
  3. Provide information and respond to student questions about course content or competency.
  4. Facilitate group discussions about course content or competency.

Teaching Strategies for Meeting Regular and Substantive Interaction Requirements

Complying with the Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) regulations is a federal legal requirement that differentiates distance education courses from correspondence courses. The following table offers guidelines for satisfying RSI requirements in online courses based on categories established by the Department of Education (DOE).

Good Practice

The Good Practices listed below may be effective but do not fulfill the substantive interaction requirements. Combining these practices with the Teaching Strategies listed is crucial to ensure compliance with RSI requirements.

Teaching Strategies that Meet RSI Requirements

The Teaching Strategies listed below contain elements that fulfill the regular and substantive interaction guidelines. To satisfy the requirements, it is necessary to use elements from at least two Teaching Strategy categories.

1. Offer direct instruction of course content.

This includes any “live, synchronous instruction where both the instructor and the student are online and in communication at the same time.”
(USDE Letter to WCET, 2022)

Good Practice

  • Slides are presented through pre-recorded video lectures.
  • Assigned readings.
  • Other web-based materials such as podcasts, videos, etc.

Teaching Strategies

  • Synchronous lectures with the opportunity for two-way communication.
  • Synchronous discussions led by the instructor regarding the course material.
  • Regularly scheduled synchronous office hours or individual meetings.

2. Assess and/or provide feedback on student coursework.

Inform students about the grading schedule for assignments and the posting of grades, and the frequency and type of feedback they can expect on their assignments and other course activities.

Good Practice

  • Automated quizzes with feedback provided for both correct and incorrect answers.
  • Assignments that receive a grade and receive general feedback for the entire class.
  • Assignments that are only graded without accompanying feedback.

Teaching Strategies

  • Incorporate a question that requires application and provide individualized feedback using Canvas auto-graded quizzes.
  • Include assignments graded with personalized feedback aligning with the feedback schedule outlined in the syllabus.
  • Utilize Canvas learning analytics to consistently offer general feedback to the entire class regarding frequent questions, strengths, and areas of difficulty.

3. Provide information and respond to student questions about course content or competency.

Include information in the course syllabus and Canvas course regarding the instructor's availability, such as their office hours, contact information, the period for responding to student inquiries, and the procedures for using email and other forms of communication.

Good Practice

  • Regular weekly reminders about approaching due dates through channels such as Canvas chat, announcements, email, etc.
  • Timely response to students' emails.
  • Regularly held office hours.

Teaching Strategies

  • Provide weekly scheduled announcements that address frequently asked questions or summarize the class's progress.
  • Regularly send emails or messages to check on the academic aspects of the course and provide additional information related to the class material.
  • Offer weekly office hours for reviewing course content and recording and posting question and answer sessions for the class to access.

4. Facilitate group discussions about course content or competency.

The syllabus and course site outline the expectations for instructor and student participation in forums.

Good Practice

  • The instructor creates an unmoderated open-ended forum.
  • Students led group discussions.
  • The instructor answers questions posted in these group discussions.

Teaching Strategies

  • Instructor-led discussion forums are integrated into the course where relevant to the course context and goals.
  • The instructor frequently posts to the course discussion forums in different formats, asking questions that are related to the course subject.
  • The instructor actively oversees peer-to-peer discussions.