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Regular Effective Contact Hours

The following video addresses some important issues from the student's perspective on instructor interactions in an online classroom: Online Student Experience (Links to an external site.)

It is imperative that instructors maintain Regular, Effective, and Substantive Faculty-Initiated Contact for online courses as this is the practice that determines if a course is truly a distance education course, and therefore qualifies for federal financial aid, or if it is rather a correspondence course. Courses can be deemed "correspondence" after the fact with far reaching ramifications for students.

Establishing Regular, Effective, and Substantive Faculty-Initiated Contact:

Instructors will use the following practices of regular and substantive contact in their Distance Education courses:

  1. Regular Announcements: Faculty should make general course related announcements to the students in their distance education classes on a weekly basis, whether by the announcement area in the Learning Management System or via e-mails to the entire class.

  2. Establishing Expectations: Faculty will include in their syllabus or course orientation a description of the frequency and timeliness of instructor-initiated contact and feedback, as well as expectations for student participation. This should include the timeframe for responding to e-mails and phone calls, the timeframe for receiving feedback on student work, the timeframe for submission of assignments, and the expectations of discussion board postings required of the student. This information will be available to students on the first day of class.

  3. Faculty-Initiated Interaction: Faculty will regularly initiate interaction with students to determine that they have access to the course materials, that they understand the material, that they understand what is required of them, and that they are participating in the activities of the course. There are various ways of accomplishing this, including but not limited to, asynchronous discussion board forums with appropriate faculty input in the forum or grade book, synchronous chats, video conferencing, individualized contact via phone or e-mail, and, in the case of a hybrid course, in face-to-face meetings.

  4. Timely Feedback on Student Work: Faculty will grade and provide feedback on student work within a reasonable timeframe. If discussion boards are required, students should be given guidelines at the outset of the course and feedback on their participation throughout the duration of the course.

  5. Content Delivery: Faculty will provide content material either through online materials (in written, video, and/or audio forms) and/or through introductions to materials not created by the instructor (such as publisher-provided materials, web sites, streaming video, etc.).

  6. Notifying Students of Faculty Unavailability/Offline Time: If the instructor must be out of contact briefly for any reason, notification to students will be made in the announcements area of the course and/or via e-mail that includes when the students can expect regular effective contact to resume. This should occur for any offline periods lasting longer than three business days.

  7. Faculty Absence Notification: If a faculty member must be offline for a period of time that results in the faculty member not being able to meet his or her regular effective contact for any given week, this would be considered an absence and the Dean of the division in which the course is taught must be notified. Absences will be handled in accordance with the negotiated faculty contract.

  8. Face-to-Face Forms of Contact: Faculty are encouraged to utilize the face-to-face forms of contact mentioned in Title 5, Section 55211 (e.g., group or individual meetings, orientation and review sessions, supplemental seminar or study sessions, field trips, and library workshops), but to keep in mind that in the case of fully online classes it will not be possible for all students to attend such activities and these activities cannot be mandatory unless the course is hybrid and meetings times are announced in the schedule. Alternate online activities, such as those mentioned in the sections above, that entail instructor-student contact should be made available for such students who cannot attend.

  9. Student to Student Contact: Faculty will ensure ongoing regular and effective student-to-student contact. Best practices include, but are not limited to, include implementing communication means for varied types of interaction in the course design, assigning and monitoring weekly assignments and projects that promote collaboration among students, posing questions in the discussion boards that encourage critical thinking skills and promote interaction, and monitoring student engagement to ensure that students participate with depth.

Information from the Chancellor's Office and Title 5 on Regular and Effective Contact reads:

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:

  1. Any portion of a course conducted through distance education includes regular effective contact between instructor and students, through group or individual meetings, orientation and review sessions, supplemental seminar or study sessions, field trips, library workshops, telephone contact, correspondence, voice mail, e-mail, or other activities. Regular effective contact is an academic and professional matter pursuant to sections 53200 et seq.

  2. Any portion of a course provided through distance education is conducted consistent with guidelines issued by the Chancellor pursuant to section 409 of the Procedures and Standing Orders of the Board of Governors.

NOTE: Authority cited: Sections 66700 and 70901, Education Code.

Reference: Sections 70901 and 70902, Education Code.

Guideline for Section 55204

This section defines what contact must be maintained between instructor and student. It is virtually identical to section 55211 which it replaces, except that language has been added to clarify that rules related to conduct of distance education and effective instructor contact apply to any portion of a course conducted through distance education.

Subdivision (a) stresses the responsibility of the instructor in a DE course to initiate regular contact with enrolled students to verify their participation and performance status. The use of the term “regular effective contact” in this context suggests that students should have frequent opportunities to ask questions and receive answers from the instructor of record.

The last published Distance Education Guidelines, March 2004, issued by the Chancellor pursuant to section 409 of the Procedures and Standing Orders of the Board of Governors, as referenced in subdivision (b), establishes the principle that for DE courses there are a number of acceptable interactions between instructor and student, not all of which may require in-person contact. Thus, districts and/or colleges will need to define “effective contact” including how often, and in what manner instructor-student interaction is achieved. It is important to document regular effective contact and how it is achieved. Since regular effective contact was declared an academic and professional matter, this documentation must include demonstration of collegial consultation with the academic senate, for example through its delegation to the local curriculum committee. A natural place for this to occur is during the separate course approval process (see section 55206) as well as during faculty evaluations, student surveys, and program review. Documentation should consist of the inclusion of information in applicable outlines of record on the type and frequency of interaction appropriate to each DE course/section or session. Local policies should establish and monitor minimum standards of regular effective contact.