The Importance of Instructor Presence

Regular and Substantive Interactions (RSI) in Online Courses

It might seem odd to think of being “present” when you’re teaching students who are separated by both space and time, but it is critical to your success as an online instructor and for the success of your online students, wherever they are. Historically, one of the biggest complaints with online learning is the sense of isolation that many students feel when they have little or no interaction with their instructor or other students in the course.


The Federal Government (and ADHE through the agreement with NC-SARA) requires Regular and Substantive Interaction in online (distance) courses and delineates federal financial aid eligibility (Title IV funds) based on the use of Regular and Substantive Interaction to distinguish between online (distance) and correspondence (self-paced) courses.

Distance (online) courses are delivered online through “appropriate” media, use accredited instructors, contain at least two forms of substantive interaction, have “scheduled and predictable” opportunities for instructor/student interaction, and include instructors that are responsive to students’ requests for support.



What do we mean by Regular and Substantive Interaction? Establish a policy for responding to students’ emails and follow it. Don’t leave them waiting. Another easy way to be present is to provide students with regular feedback. Grade assignments as soon as you are able and provide thoughtful feedback about student work. These are very basic ways that you can establish your presence in your course.


RSI Syllabus Statement

Below is an example RSI statement you will need to add to your syllabus.

This will vary per course depending on which substantive interactions you choose. 

Regular and Substantive Interaction policy 

Regarding Academic Policy 1200.50, this course meets the regular and substantive interaction requirements for online courses. I will do the following:

  • Monitor your academic engagement and success and will contact you regarding your progress via your UARK email.
  • Regularly contact you via your UARK email or other course tools regarding course content and expectations.
  • Provide detailed and personalized feedback on your papers and projects.
  • Respond to student questions via UARK email or other method in a timely manner.

For more detailed information about RSI in your online course visit  Regular and Substantive Interactions in Online Courses.


Tips for Creating and Maintaining Instructor Presence

  • Host an “Introduce Yourself” discussion or blog in the course. Let the students interact informally with other students and you.
  • Get in the habit of sending out a “Welcome to the Week” message at the beginning of each week. Tell the students what to expect, what to look for as they study, and remind them of any assignments due that week.
  • Participate in a weekly discussion. You can be a participant or a guide to keep the conversation on the right track. Think Socratic Method. In the classroom when you start a discussion, do you walk out of the room? Or do you stay and guide the students to make sure they reach the appropriate points?
  • Write announcements ahead of time that can be scheduled for release or quickly posted at different times during the week. Save announcements from previous courses, so you can edit, copy, and paste.
  • Some of the most valuable communication with your students is the guidance you give through thoughtful feedback on their assignments. Construct major assignments in two or more parts, so that you can give feedback along the way that the students can use to improve their work and give them a better understanding of the subject (formative vs. summative).
  • Set specific virtual office hours, using Teams, Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate
  • Make a semester-long engagement-schedule for yourself, so you start strong and finish the course strong. You don’t want to lose some students in the last few weeks.

Set Student Expectations

  • Write or record an introduction to the course. It is possible that your course is the first online course a student has taken, or it is the first time the student has used your learning management system (LMS). You can create a “Start Here” section that introduces the student to how your course will work and where to find different components, such as: your syllabus, the schedule, assignments, etc.
    Will everything be due on the same day each week?
    What is the best method to contact the instructor?
    Where can the student get technical help?
  • Add a contact policy to your syllabus. Students expect faculty to be present in the course when they are. If they ask a question, unless told otherwise, they might sit and wait for an answer. Let the students know the best way to contact you and how long to wait for a response. Typically, 24 hrs during the week and 48 hrs on the weekend. However, sooner is always better.
  • If you are going to be unavailable for an extended period of time or your regular contact hours change (e.g. sickness, conference, travel, etc.), communicate that to the students. Let them know when you will be back, how delayed your communication will be, and if they need to contact someone else in your absence.
  • Add a feedback policy to your syllabus. Online students seem more anxious about feedback and grades. Give them an idea of how quickly you will grade and give feedback. Typically, for small assignments, most instructors say 2-3 days, and for larger papers and multi-part projects, it might be a week or more.
  • With our easy-to-use Kaltura video tool you can quickly make videos to update your students about the course, talk about current events related to course content, or talk about overall group performance trends on assignments. You can record videos on your computer or use your phone to record video and upload to your Kaltura Media Space.


Recommended Viewing

5 tips to Boost Social Presence in an Online Class from DELTA LearnTech.

Video - 5 Tips to Boost Social Presence in an Online Class

Another term that is often used along with Instructor Presence is Humanizing Online Learning. The Humanizing Visual Guide Infographic created by Dr. Michelle Pacansky-Brock will provides examples and ideas to create a welcoming space in your online classes.



Now that you have familiarized yourself with ways to improve instructor presence in an online course, continue on to learn about Accessibility in Online Courses.  



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