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IN > OIEI > ID&S > Step-by-Step Tutorials

Regular and Substantive Engagement

An effective online course doesn't teach itself. The term "regular and substantive engagement" is a federal accreditation requirement that, as a higher education institution, we must meet in our online courses in order to be eligible for federal student aid dollars. That means that an online course must be much more than a correspondence course, where students are only assigned to "read the chapter and then take the test." Instructor engagement with students throughout the learning process is key to success. Student engagement with the material, with the instructor, and with each other is also important. Here are some guidelines from the Arizona Regents on expected student effort and instructor contact hours per week, based on the course length and number of units of credit. There is no distinction between online and face-to-face courses with regard to these numbers.

Expected Student Effort

The Arizona Board of Regents policy on student effort is that a minimum of 45 hours of total effort is expected for every unit of course credit. This number of effort hours includes both in-class time and outside-of-class reading, study time, work on assignments, etc. In a face-to-face class, the expectation is about 1/3 of effort is in class, and 2/3 is outside class. If the same course is offered in different length formats, shorter courses will therefore require more student effort per week, because the same number of credits will be earned regardless of format. It is important that students understand that shorter courses are not easier. In fact, they require more effort per week. This is also why NAU doesn't recommend taking more than one 3-week, 3-credit Winter Session course. It's a full time job!

Student Effort Length of Course (Weeks)
16 12 10 7.5 5 3
Units of Credit Expected Minimum Effort (Hours per Week)
3 8.4 11.3 13.5 18.0 27.0 45.0
2 5.6 7.5 9.0 12.0 18.0 30.0
1 2.8 3.8 4.5 6.0 9.0 15.0

effort hours/week = ((credits) * (45 hours/credit)) / weeks

Instructor Contact Hours

Engagement in an online course includes time spent creating course announcements, responding to student questions, reacting to discussion posts, grading written work, providing helpful and timely feedback on assignments, offering synchronous office hours, and monitoring and adjusting the pace of the course based on student progress and performance. While most of the content creation work should be done before the class starts, instructors should also be regularly updating content to keep it timely, and checking external links in an effort to keep the class current. According to AZ Regents policy, instructors should be spending a minimum of 128 total contact hours for a 3 credit, 16 week course. For a 1 credit course, divide 128/3 to get the number of expected contact hours per week, which is 42.667 per credit unit. It's important to set expectations on how frequently you'll respond to student contact. The shorter the course, the more important it is to respond promptly. For a 16 week course, 3-4 times a week is reasonable. For a 3 week course, you should be responding to messages almost every day.

Instructor Contact Length of Course (Weeks)
16 12 10 7.5 5 3
Units of Credit Expected Instructor Contact Time (Hours per Week)
3 8.0 10.7 12.8 17.1 25.6 42.7
2 5.3 7.1 8.5 11.4 17.1 28.4
1 2.7 3.6 4.3 5.7 8.5 14.2

contact hours/week = ((credits) * (128/3 hours/credit)) / weeks

Here's the Excel spreadsheet we used to calculate these numbers.