Federal Regulation Updates for Distance Education
Department of Education's summary of the Final Rule.
NC-SARA's Announcement on Release of Department of Education Final Rules
According to the US DOE, the secretary has "issued final rules today that govern distance learning in higher education and promote educational innovation to better serve the needs of an increasingly diverse population of students. While work on the Distance Learning and Innovation regulation started more than a year ago, the COVID-19 national emergency underscores the need for students to have access to high-quality remote learning options."
On page 105 - 106, there are five critical factors to differentiate distance education from correspondence courses.
- The institution’s online instruction is delivered through an appropriate form of media;
- The instructors with whom students regularly and substantively interact meet the requirements of the institution’s accrediting agency for instruction in the subject matter;
- Instructors engage in at least two forms of substantive interaction meeting the regulatory requirements for the course or competency;
- The institution has established scheduled and predictable opportunities for substantive interaction between students and instructors and create expectations for instructors to monitor each student’s engagement and substantively engage with students on the basis of that monitoring; and
- Instructors are responsive to students’ requests for instructional support.
On pages 339 -341, the rule defines technologies and substantive interaction.
The technologies that may be used to offer distance education include ...
- The internet;
- One-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communications devices;
- Audio conference; or
- Other media used in a course in conjunction with any of the technologies listed above.
Substantive interaction is defined as engaging students in teaching, learning, and assessment, consistent with the content under discussion, and also includes at least two of the following ...
- Providing direct instruction;
- Assessing or providing feedback on a student’s coursework;
- Providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course or competency;
- Facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency; or
- Other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency.
Institutions ensure regular interaction between a student and an instructor or instructors by, prior to the student’s completion of a course or competency ...
- Providing the opportunity for substantive interactions with the student on a predictable and regular basis commensurate with the length of time and the amount of content in the course or competency; and
- 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.
The regulations will take effect July 1, 2021, but institutions may voluntarily implement any or all provisions. This rule falls within the Negotiated Rulemaking for Higher Education 2018-19.
Further explanation and analysis is provided by WCET's Frontiers online publication.