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Regular Effective Contact

"Regular Effective Contact" and "Regular Substantive Interaction" in Online Classes

"Title 5, section 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 student."

In addition, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) requires that Distance Education courses ensure that there is "regular substantive interaction" between instructor and student.

SBVC's Online Program Committee has stipulated that Title 5's requirement for "regular effective contact" is functionally equivalent to ACCJC's requirement for "regular substantive interaction."

SBVC's curriculum approval process includes rigorous compliance regarding Title 5 and online classes.  Contact types are defined, and the process determines the minimum regular effective contact for each course taught in the online format.

Below are the various contact types as set forth by the Curriculum Committee.  Not every course will require every kind of contact.  But this list can be a guide as you think through whether your online class fulfills the requirements for "regular effective contact" and "regular substantive interaction."

Regular Effective Contact


Student Initiated Contact:

__Asynchronous Office Hours:  When contacted via voice mail or e-mail by a student, the instructor usually responds within 24 hours (except weekends, holidays, and vacations) so the contact with the student will be timely, albeit not instantaneous. This contact is effective because it responds to specific concerns and questions of individual students.  

__Moderating a Bulletin Board:
  Depending on the structure of the class and the function of the specific virtual space, when a student posts a message in an open, public space in an online class, the instructor usually responds within 24 hours (except weekends, holidays, and vacations) so the contact will be timely, albeit not instantaneous.  This contact is effective because it responds to specific concerns and questions of individual students, yet the responses are shared in a public arena.  So all students can benefit from the question of one student.  (There may be spaces created where the instructor will specifically not respond to students, where students can have their “own virtual space.”  But these instances should be clearly communicated to the student.)

__Synchronous Office Hours:
  These are specific hours of specific days when a student can interact with an instructor.  These can be physical synchronous office hours where the instructor is present on campus in a specific office.  But these synchronous office hours could also be times when the instructor is available via various technologies:  telephone, e-mail, audio conferencing (i.e. CCCConfer), video conferencing, “chat rooms,” or multi-point multi-interactive programs.


Instructor Initiated Contact:

__Announcements:  These are posts that update students on the content or the processes of the class.  They can be in written, aural, or video format.  This type of contact is effective because it demonstrates that the instructor is present in the class and is moderating the progress of the class as a whole and of individual students.  This type of contact should be regular.  At a minimum, these announcements should happen once each week.  More frequent posting of announcements would almost universally enhance the effectiveness of the contact.

__Individual Contact with Students via e-mail or phone:
  There may be times when individual students need to be contacted by the instructor.  These contacts might be for the purposes of checking the status of the student in the institution, reminding the student of responsibilities, asking the student questions about the material, or increasing the role of an individual educator in the academic lives of a student.  This type of contact is effective because it enhances the one-on-one interaction between student and instructor.  And Chickering and Gamson’s “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” indicate that this is a primary element in success.  Although this type of contact may be regular and periodic, it happens more often on an ad hoc basis.

__Leading Threaded Discussions:  This type of interaction is very much like “Moderating a Bulletin Board,” described above.  However, leading a threaded discussion is initiated by the instructor and more directly moderated, directing the messages in the threads toward specific learning objectives.  This kind of interaction is effective because it directly links the subject matter of the class with the individual students in the class.  Usually there are time limits to these discussions, so the responses should be timely and regular, within those time constraints.

__Creating and Moderating Virtual Small Groups:  Instructors can intentionally create virtual small groups in an online class.  Once these groups are created, the instructor can moderate the work and the discussions among the students.  This type of interaction combines the general communal elements of Moderating a Bulletin Board and Leading Threaded Discussions (both described above) in a small groups setting where mutual interdependence can be fostered.  Thus the contact is effective in creating a sense of social cohesiveness as well as creating a community within which the deepening the understanding of the subject matter can happen.  Usually there are time limits and deadlines for group work, so the presence of the instructor should be timely and regular, within those time constraints.

__Feedback on Student Work:  Instructors are responsible for verifying the participation of the students in the class as well as monitoring their performance status.  When faculty give students feedback on their work, this type of contact is effective because it allows the student opportunities to adjust their performance and adjust their understandings or misunderstandings of the material.  As in the on-ground classroom, this contact is crucial in the learning process.  The timing of this feedback is at the discretion of the instructor and dependent on the type of learning that is being achieved.  But timely appropriate feedback is essential.  Computer generated exams can provide immediate feedback.  Feedback on written work will not be instantaneous, but students should be made aware of the parameters of the feedback.  The feedback can consist of written, aural, or video material.

__Posting Prepared Instructional Material:  In an on-ground class, much of the contact between instructors and students is the instructor presenting material to the class, in the form of lectures or handouts or other prepared instructional material.  In an online class too, this is one mode of effective contact between the instructor and the student.  These materials, combined with publisher produced material or material found on the Internet, create the functional equivalent of the content of the class.  The timing of posting these materials is a function of the schedule of the course and should be regular within the parameters of the rhythm of the course.

__Facilitating Student to Student Contact:  This contact can be synchronous or asynchronous, in person or mediated through technology, individual or group, and highly moderated or lightly moderated.  But instructors may facilitate conversations between students.  Instead of the effective regular contact being between instructor and student, in this case the effective regular contact involves interaction between learners.  As with on-ground classes, this type of communication is very effective in providing opportunities for students to bond with the material and with members of their class.  The timing of this interaction is a function of the schedule of the course and should be regular within the parameters of the rhythm of the course.