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Regular Effective Co​ntact 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 Contact Hours 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.

College of the Desert's policy on Regular Effective Contact Hours is:

1. All DE courses at COD, including hybrid courses, will include regular effective contact as per the following:

  • Initiated interaction: Instructors will regularly initiate interaction with students on a one-to-one and/or group basis. In doing so, the instructor should be, on a regular basis, cognizant of the degree to which students are participating in the course – similar to how a face-to-face instructor is constantly aware of how many students are attending class. Providing students with an open-ended question forum, although appropriate, does not constitute the entirety of effective instructor initiated interaction.

    Frequency and duration: In a DE course, the frequency and duration of contact should be comparable to that of the “equivalent” face-to-face course. At the very least, the number of instructor contact hours per week that would be available to face-to-face students will also be available, in asynchronous and/or synchronous mode, to DE students. Given the nature and variety of DE contact, especially asynchronous contact, it is not expected that contact will necessarily occur during well-defined blocks of time as in a face-to-face course. Nevertheless, over the course of the week, an individual student can expect contact that is comparable in frequency and duration to that which would be experienced in an “equivalent” face-to-face course.
  • Establishing expectations and managing unexpected instructor absence: An instructor and/or department established policy describing the frequency and timeliness of instructor initiated contact and instructor feedback, will be posted in the syllabus and/or other course documents that are made available for students when the course officially opens each semester. If the instructor must be out of contact briefly for an unexpected reason (such as illness or a family emergency that takes the instructor offline), notification to students will be made in the announcements area of the course that includes when the students can expect regular effective contact to resume. If the offline time results in a lengthy absence (i.e. more than three or four days) a substitute instructor should be sought who can assist students while the instructor is unavailable.

2. Mandatory types of contact: In all COD DE courses, instructors will, at a minimum, make use of the following to initiate and maintain contact with students:

  • Threaded discussion forums within the Learning Management System (LMS) with appropriate instructor participation
  • General email and/or messaging through the LMS
  • Weekly announcements in the LMS
  • Timely feedback on student work
  • Instructor prepared material that, possibly combined with other course materials, creates the “virtual equivalent” of the face-to-face classroom.

3. Other types of contact: The following are other forms of communication that DE instructors may wish to make use of to initiate and maintain contact with students:

  • Chat Room/Instant Messaging/Texting/Twitter
  • Online quizzes/exams
  • Telephone/Voicemail
  • USPS mail
  • E-Portfolios/Blogs/Wikis
  • Scheduled face-to-face group or individual meetings
  • Regular virtual office hours
  • Field trips
  • Library workshops
  • Posted audio/video Live audio/video
  • E-conference (CCC Confer)


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:
(a) 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.
(b) 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.