Regular Effective Contact
Regular Effective Contact between the instructor and students--initiated by the instructor--is spelled out in the state Title 5 regulations and in the Distance Education Guidelines for the California Community Colleges.
55204. Instructor Contact.
In addition to the requirements of section 55002 and any locally established requirements applicable to all courses, district governing boards shall ensure that:
(a) Any portion of a course conducted through distance education includes regular effective contact between instructor and students, and among students, either synchronously or asynchronously, through group or individual meetings, orientation and review sessions, supplemental seminar or study sessions, field trips, library workshops, telephone contact, voice mail, e-mail, or other activities. Regular effective contact is an academic and professional matter pursuant to sections 53200 et seq.
(b) Any portion of a course provided through distance education is conducted consistent with guidelines issued by the Chancellor pursuant to section 409 of the Procedures and Standing Orders of the Board of Governors.
Subdivision (a) stresses the responsibility of the instructor in a DE course to initiate regular contact with enrolled students to verify their participation and performance status. The use of the term “regular effective contact” in this context suggests that students should have frequent opportunities to ask questions and receive answers from the instructor of record.
The last published Distance Education Guidelines, March 2004, issued by the Chancellor pursuant to section 409 of the Procedures and Standing Orders of the Board of Governors, as referenced in subdivision (b), establishes the principle that for DE courses there are a number of acceptable interactions between instructor and student, not all of which may require in-person contact. Thus, districts and/or colleges will need to define “effective contact” including how often, and in what manner instructor-student interaction is achieved. It is important to document regular effective contact and how it is achieved. Since regular effective contact was declared an academic and professional matter, this documentation must include demonstration of collegial consultation with the academic senate, for example through its delegation to the local curriculum committee. A natural place for this to occur is during the separate course approval process (see section 55206) as well as during faculty evaluations, student surveys, and program review.
Documentation should consist of the inclusion of information in applicable outlines of record on the type and frequency of interaction appropriate to each DE course/section or session. Local policies should establish and monitor minimum standards of regular effective contact.
Regular and Substantive Interaction
While Regular Effective Contact is a state regulation, Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) is a federal regulation. There are two ways your course can be scrutinized for evidence of RSI: through an audit and through accreditation. Audits are performed by the U.S. Department of Education, and our regional accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, (ACCJC) is part of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), which is under the federal DOE.
It is possible that if auditors or accreditors find many LPC Distance Education courses without evidence of RSI, they can classify those as Correspondence Courses, which might jeopardize federal financial aid flowing to the college. Students in Distance Ed courses are eligible for financial aid, but students in Correspondence courses are not.
So what's the difference between Regular Effective Contact and Regular and Substantive Interaction? The feds focus on "substantive interaction."
Here is what the auditors and accreditors are looking for in your course:
- A syllabus that sets expectations for instructor response time, grade turnaround time, student participation, and instructor participation.
- Regular substantive academic feedback to all students on all assignments. For example, tell a student why he got a B and what he can do to get an A. Also, use rubrics for grading. Academic feedback does not include reminders about deadlines or other logistical matters. The feedback must go beyond perfunctory comments such as "good job" or "great work."
- Regular instructor participation in discussions that deal with academic content. You should constantly provide substantive feedback and facilitate all of the discussions.
- Regular announcements that offer feedback that are academic in nature.
Do not put interactions in third-party sites, such as MyMathLab or your personal emails; auditors and accreditors will only look inside your course for evidence. Additionally, they do not consider posting lecture videos as interaction.