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RSI: Regular and Substantive Interaction

  • Online & Hybrid Teaching
  • Teaching Strategies
  • Course Design

Last modified: December 9, 2023

RSI is an important component of online classes and a federal requirement

What is RSI?

Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) is what distinguishes an online course from a correspondence course, and it is a US Department of Education (DoE) requirement for institutions receiving federal financial aid. If an institution is found to be out of compliance during a DoE financial aid program review, institutions may be required to repay financial aid associated with online classes not meeting RSI requirements. 

Online classes that have a synchronous meeting time have an easier time meeting the requirements for RSI because the instructor is providing direct, live instruction, and students have the opportunity to ask questions and get feedback during the class meeting time. Instructors teaching asynchronous online classes, however, need to ensure that they are building RSI into their course design. An asynchronous course where students are using an online textbook with activities that are automatically graded with little to no instructor feedback may be in danger of being considered a correspondence course in the eyes of the DoE.

Below are examples and recommendations for how to incorporate or increase RSI in your online course:

Examples of RSI

In order to be considered regular interaction:

  • It must be scheduled and predictable
  • It should occur regularly throughout the semester (at least once a week)
  • It can include monitoring of student progress and engagement in the course and proactively reaching out to students as needed or at a student's request

Ways to incorporate regular interaction:

  • Have regularly scheduled office hours
  • Send out announcements at a regular and predictable time each week
  • Have consistent discussion or interactive activities (like social annotation assignments)
  • Use the monitoring tools in Blackboard to keep up with student progress:
    • Course reports
    • Performance dashboard
    • Retention center
    • Turn on review and statistics tracking for course content items
  • Use EAB tools (email, text, alerts) to reach out to students who are not engaged or who are doing poorly
    • For example, reach out to students who haven't been on the course site in the first few days or who are not turning in assignments

According to the regulations, instructors teaching online classes need to ensure that at least two out of the following five substantive activities occur in the course:

  1. Provide direct instruction (in a live class meeting - recorded video lectures DO NOT count toward meeting this standard)
  2. Assess or provide feedback on student work (auto-graded assessments DO NOT count toward meeting this standard)
  3. Provide information or respond to questions about course content (regularly scheduled office hours DO meet this standard)
  4. Facilitate a group discussion regarding course content (asynchronous discussions DO meet this standard)
  5. Other instructional activities approved by the institution's or program's accrediting agency

Ways to incorporate or increase substantive interaction:

  • Provide personalized comments and feedback on individual student's work - these can be text feedback through the Blackboard grading system, video feedback, email, or another medium
  • Include regular announcements that are content-focused (not just reminders about deadlines)
  • Engage students in group work that is moderated by the instructor
  • Have online discussions that are moderated by the instructor
    • For example, respond to each student introduction in a forum
    • Add a course Q&A forum, and respond to posts in a timely manner
  • Incorporate social annotation activities that are moderated by the instructor
  • Include a mid-term survey for students, and then review results, make reasonable changes, and report back to the students

In order to be considered instructor-led, the interaction must be initiated by the instructor, not prompted by the request of a student. The interaction cannot be optional. Interactions must also be timely and proactive.

Ways to incorporate or increase instructor-led interaction:

  • Set up regular office hours and remind students of them
  • Create learning activities to go along with recorded lectures and participate in them to clear up student misconceptions
  • Hold review or study sessions or work sessions where students can receive feedback
  • Keep up with student progress and reach out to students who are falling behind or aren't being successful on assessments
  • Include a mid-term survey for students, and then review results, make reasonable changes, and report back to the students

What does NOT constitute RSI

The following is a list of things that do NOT count toward RSI requirements:

  • Pre-recorded video lectures not associated with an assignment, discussion, or quiz
  • Only offering student-solicited office hours (no regularly scheduled times)
  • Offering only live webinar-style meetings with no opportunity for student interaction
  • Automatically-graded quizzes or other assessments
  • No personalized feedback on any assignments - comments like "good job" or "needs improvement" do not count as personalized
  • Having discussion board activities that are not moderated by the instructor (with interaction from the instructor)
  • Only posting announcements 2 or 3 times a semester
  • Announcements are only focused on due dates or policies