Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) in Online Courses

What Is Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)?

The U.S. Department of Education requires that all distance education courses for which students may use federal financial aid (e.g. Pell Grant) include regular and substantive interaction between the students and instructor(s).In November 2021, the University Senate passed the Georgia State University policy on Regular and Substantive Interaction in Online Courses. 

Regular and substantive interaction is the distinguishing feature of distance education versus correspondence courses and informs the amount of financial aid for which a student is eligible. GSU is not authorized to offer correspondence courses.

Substantive interactions engage students in teaching, learning, and assessment relevant to the subject matter, and must include two of these five actions:

  1. Providing direct instruction
  2. Assessing and providing feedback on a student’s coursework
  3. Providing information or responding to questions about course-related contents or competencies
  4. Facilitating a group discussion regarding course-related contents or competencies
  5. Other instructional activities approved by the institution.

Regular Interactions are interactions that are scheduled and on a predictable basis.

Every RSI activity has these three distinctions:

Why is RSI important and valuable?

Regular and Substantive Interactions are the most effective ways we can engage students to improve their success in online courses. In addition, RSI can be used to enhance a teaching portfolio and to highlight in an annual review.

Even more importantly, it is a federal requirement for all distance education courses and a Georgia State University policy. RSI compliance ensures the university does not face the following consequences:

    The Office of the Provost charges deans and chairs to be strong RSI advocates with their faculty but is not mandating a process for doing so. Decisions about how to best encourage and support faculty commitment to RSI will reside with the college and/or department. Some may choose to collect documentation; others may take a different approach. CETLOE can provide recommendations for documentation strategies.

    GSU will be required to address RSI in its fifth-year interim report to SACSCOC in 2024-2025. The US Department of Education (USDOE) will review compliance as part of their periodic Departmental financial aid review of the University. In addition, the USDOE has the authority to initiate an audit at any time.

Do I already have RSI in my online course?

Ensuring regular and substantive interaction (RSI) is a hallmark of effective teaching consistent with the university’s mission and values as an educational institution. If you’ve worked with CETLOE to develop your online courses you are likely to find RSI examples already embedded in your courses.

How to Review a Course

Use these materials to develop ideas or confirm that you are meeting requirements for regular and substantive interaction.

RSI Self-Assessment Checklist (PDF) 

    No. This is a federal requirement that carries serious consequences for GSU if the university is found to be out of compliance.

    An instructor who is unwilling to incorporate RSI activities in their online class(es) should not be assigned to teach online. The department chair has the authority to adjust an instructor’s teaching assignment to only in-person or hybrid/blended classes.

    There is no exact standard such as “once a week.” Factors to consider in determining an appropriate combination of substantive activities and regular interactions: 1) aim or goal of the course; 2) needs of the students, 3) course time frame or number of credit hours.

    No. Although it may be tempting to see this mandate as a burden imposed by the USDOE, ensuring student-instructor interaction is well documented as a hallmark of effective teaching and is consistent with GSU’s educational mission. The expectation is that online classes contain the same or similar types of instructor-initiated activities although there may be a difference in how these are delivered. The goal is equivalent rather than more.

    No. RSI activities are assumed to be occurring in hybrid and in-person classes.

Examples of RSI in Online Courses

The following recommendations are adapted from WCET and the University of Colorado.

  • Faculty presence, guidance, and initiation of contact and interaction with students happens fairly frequently and students grow to expect it;
  • The timing of the course, including the deadlines, is directed by the instructor and set through the use of learning activities, online discussions, and lectures. That is, assignments and assessment deadlines are spread throughout the term of the class;
  • The instructor provides regular, timely, appropriate feedback and evaluations of student work in relation to the students’ academic engagement;
  • Announcements at strategic points in the course by the instructor concerning course assignments and offering additional guidance (this would also include notice to students of instructor absence from class and information on when regular interaction will resume). 

  • Follow-up questions on a discussion board. 
  • Personalized and constructive feedback on assignments, discussions, etc. that guides students to further knowledge and/or skills, identifying what has been done correctly or what may need improvement. 
  • Course materials that facilitate interactions between student(s) and instructor and require the student to contact the instructor or participate in an online discussion moderated by the instructor. These types of materials include instructor-prepared lectures (live or recorded), podcasts, or other forms of addressing course content and topics, presented in an appropriate format for the subject such as written documents, audio and/or video files.  
  • Instructor announcements regarding course content and assignments. 
  • Online meetings and chats focusing on course material and/or address student questions. 

Need Help?

Additional RSI Resources

The following are additional sources of information related to RSI requirements.