Importance of RSI for Student Learning

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Online LearningStudent Success
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Sandy Keeter is a professor in the Information Technology department at Seminole State College


In a ruling that went into effect in July 2021, the Department of Education (DOE) declared that “distance education” or “online, instructed courses” must include regular and substantive interaction (RSI) to be eligible for federal financial aid through Title IV funds. Institutions must monitor and provide evidence of RSI practices within their classes upon review by the DOE.

So, what does RSI entail, and why does it matter so much? Today, I’ll be diving into RSI, and how to incorporate it in your class.

What is RSI?

The Distance Education and Innovation Rule describes RSI as “a core component distinguishing distance education from correspondence education.” Regular interaction should be substantive and with each student, on a regular basis. Substantive interaction refers to engaging students in teaching, learning, and assessment.

Instructors are required to engage in at least two types of substantive interaction during each course. That interaction should be regular, scheduled, predictable, and focused on the course content. Students should understand when they can expect to engage with their instructor, the importance of these interactions and that they will happen throughout the entire academic term. Here’s a breakdown of these interactions:

Regular interactions should be:

  • Conducted throughout the course on a predictable and scheduled basis
  • Proportionate to the course length and amount of content involved
  • Initiated by the instructor and/or at the request of a student

Substantive interaction includes at least two of the following instructor activities:

  • Providing direct instruction
  • Assessing or providing feedback on a student’s coursework
  • Providing information or responding to questions about course content
  • Facilitating a group discussion regarding course content

RSI and why Quality Matters

There are many factors that play a part in a quality online learning experience for students, and Quality Matters (QM) helps ensure good course design. QM provides standards that can be used to guide and improve the instructional design of an online course, support course delivery, and offer a better learning experience for our students.

There are a variety of standards and principles that you should follow to offer an impactful online teaching and learning experience. Regular and substantive interaction is among these principles of quality online teaching.

Research has shown that connecting and engaging with students motivates them to perform at their best and is a necessary component of learning. Best practices in high-quality online courses naturally assumes regular and substantive interaction between instructors and students as part of the design and delivery of the course.

How to ensure RSI in online classes

Ensuring that regular and substantive interaction supports the principles of student-centered learning and success is applicable to any class regardless of instructional modality. There are as many ways to promote RSI as there are teaching strategies. Simply modify what you’re already doing or adapt and incorporate interaction in your online courses to support your course objectives, student needs, and teaching goals.

To count as RSI, interactions should be instructor-initiated, regular, and focused on the course content. Set clear expectations for communication and interaction in the syllabus.

Examples of expectations:

  • Send course announcements or messages at regular intervals throughout the semester
  • Post questions and actively facilitate online discussions
  • Provide timely and personalized feedback on student work
  • Moderate study groups, review sessions, and/or provide post-assessment debriefings
  • Conduct regularly scheduled student or office hours

Another way you can ensure RSI is by using digital tools that support instructor-student interactions and integrate with your LMS. This allows you to facilitate learning activities and have a record of communications, interactions, and engagement data if you need to provide evidence of regular and substantive interaction.

Wrapping up

There are many ways to ensure regular and substantive interaction in your courses and reap the many benefits it offers, including student success, improved learning outcomes, better retention, effective teaching, high-quality education, and access to federal financial aid. After doing a thorough review of your course, you may find you are already meeting RSI requirements, or you may need to make a few minor tweaks to announcements, discussions, assessment feedback, or learning sessions to make them more interactive or substantive.

Research has shown that instructor presence and instructor-to-student interactions are essential components of effective online teaching and learning. They are key course elements that foster student motivation and success. Quality does matter in online teaching and RSI helps!

To hear more from Professor Keeter about RSI in your classroom, watch the recording on “RSI and Why Quality Matters in Online Teaching” here. You can also dive into more strategies for giving thoughtful feedback with these premade rubrics.