Regular Substantive Interaction (RSI)

Faculty presence is an important factor in the success of online courses. Online instructors were previously required to meet the requirements for “Regular Effective Contact”, using both synchronous and asynchronous channels, as appropriate, to connect with students in their online courses. In 2021 the Department of Education updated the definition to “Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) between students and their instructors. Clearly-defined RSI became a primary requirement for all online courses eligible for federal financial aid, setting them apart from correspondence education with limited interaction.  

Regular, scheduled and predictable interaction is a central component of learning that ensures high-quality course design and delivery. Studies have shown that RSI improves student retention, motivation and success, as well as fosters a sense of community. Faculty should be prepared to encourage student interaction, build multiple opportunities for instructor-student and student-student contact, encourage students to ask questions, and provide feedback in a timely manner, as specified in the course syllabus. Communication within the LMS (e.g., Canvas Inbox) is strongly encouraged as it ensures compliance with FERPA, and is also easily trackable, which is critical during potential accreditation reviews. 

RSI Best Practices

  • Interaction is initiated early, before the DE course begins. This ensures that students have plenty of time to learn about the structure of the course, course expectations, and read the syllabus in detail.
  • Syllabus contains clear and specific information about the expected interaction e.g., interaction types, frequency, instructor response time, requirement for synchronous meetings (mandatory or not). Cañada’s best practice guidelines suggest that, during the work week, instructors should answer student questions as soon as possible or within 24 hours. Instructors should clearly indicate when they are not available (e.g., vacations, holidays, or weekends, if appropriate).
  • Ice-breaker activity is included at the beginning of the course. The students and the instructor introduce themselves and begin to form an online community.
  • The bulk of the interaction is instructor-initiated and guided. This ensures student understanding that the interaction is expected, not optional.
    • Instructor-facilitated discussions where students can ask questions (and receive instant response when synchronous).
    • Personal email to a student (immediate when student is absent or has missed an assignment).
    • Personalized feedback on assignment submissions.
  • Interaction can easily be initiated by a student.
    • Office hour schedule is available
    • Email to instructor (personal asynchronous response to a student’s question)
  • Several channels for student-student interaction are available.
    • Canvas Q&A forum covering a specific activity of the course.
    • Canvas Chat enables instant communication between students who are online simultaneously.
  • Interaction remains consistent and regular throughout the semester. No longer time lapses occur.
    • Instructor closely follows student progress in the course, ensuring no student is left behind.
    • Highly-structured weekly discussions with clear expectations (e.g., synchronous attendance, length and number of written contributions).
    • Weekly announcements.
    • Review sessions before exams
  • Interaction is substantive, heavily based on the course content.
    • Announcements are focused on weekly content previews, wrap-ups, brainstorming questions, or clarification of more challenging topics/content.
    • Instructor shares relevant media links from daily life.
    • Mid-course survey collects student feedback on the course content, potential issues, or any additional needs.