Courses - Regular and Substantive Interaction

Guidance on what constitutes regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors.

Overview and Definitions

The UW-Madison credit hour policy states:

Generally, UW-Madison will follow the federal credit hour definition: one hour (i.e., 50 minutes) of classroom or direct faculty/qualified instructor instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks, or the equivalent engagement over a different time-period. 

Alternatively, a credit hour will be defined as the learning that takes place in at least 45 hours of learning activities, which includes time in lectures or class meetings, in-person or online, laboratories, examinations, presentations, tutorials, preparation, reading, studying, hands-on experiences, and other learning activities; or a demonstration by the student of learning equivalent to that established as the expected product of such a period of study. 

In all cases, learning in for-credit courses is guided by a qualified instructor and includes regular and substantive student-instructor interaction

The phrase “regular and substantive student-instructor interaction” comes from the federal definition of distance education. While regular and substantive student-instructor interaction is specifically mentioned in the definition of distance education, it is applicable to any class regardless of instructional modality.

Distance education means education that uses one or more of the technologies listed in bullets 1-4 below to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously. The technologies may include:

  1. The internet;
  2. One-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communications devices;
  3. Audio conferencing; or
  4. Video cassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs, if the cassettes, DVDs, or CD-ROMs are used in a course in conjunction with any of the technologies listed in paragraphs (1) through (3) of this definition.

The U.S. Department of Education included the phrase “regular and substantive student interaction" in the 2010 release of the credit hour definition but did not provide a definition. In September 2020, the U.S. Department of Education issued this definition: 

Substantive interaction is engaging students in teaching, learning, and assessment, consistent with the content under discussion, and include at least two of the following:

  1. Providing direct instruction;
  2. Assessing or providing feedback on a student’s coursework;
  3. Providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course or competency;
  4. Facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency; or
  5. Other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency.

An institution ensures regular interaction between a student and an instructor or instructors by, prior to the student’s completion of a course or competency:

  1. Providing the opportunity for substantive interactions with the student on a predictable and scheduled basis commensurate with the length of time and the amount of content in the course or competency; and
  2. Monitoring the student’s academic engagement and success and ensuring that an instructor is responsible for promptly and proactively engaging in substantive interaction with the student when needed on the basis of such monitoring, or upon request by the student.

Importance of Regular and Substantive Interaction

Understanding what constitutes regular and substantive student-instructor interaction is important for several reasons, including:

  1. UW-Madison is not accredited to offer correspondence courses. The core feature that distinguishes a distance course from a correspondence course is the presence of regular and substantive student-instructor interaction. If the university is found to have offered correspondence courses sanctions may be imposed including substantial fines and a requirement to repay millions in federal financial aid dollars.
  2. Interaction with faculty and instructional staff is a key component of the high-quality education UW-Madison offers. It is key to providing every student with the Wisconsin Experience.

Examples of Regular and Substantive Interaction

Examples of What is Not Considered Regular and Substantive Interaction

Strategies and Ideas for Incorporating Regular and Substantive Interaction

Instructors can use the following strategies and ideas to incorporate regular and substantive interaction:

See Also: