Changing Regulations: Understanding Regular and Substantive Interaction

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

The US Department of Education has approved a major overhaul of regulations relating to distance education that will go into effect July 1, 2021. This session will provide participants with an overview of the regulations related to regular and substantive interaction requirements for distance education.


Dr. Van Davis joined WCET in March 2021 where he serves as chief strategy officer and also serves as the Services Design and Strategy Officer for Every Learner Everywhere. Prior to these roles, he served as founder and principal at Foghlam Consulting where he worked with colleges, universities, and nonprofits on strategic planning, higher education policy, and research. Van has over 25 years of experience in higher education. During his career he has served as a faculty member and academic administrator, director of innovations at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and associate vice president for higher education policy and research at Blackboard Inc. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in 20th Century United States History with an emphasis in civil rights from Vanderbilt University and a B.A. in History from Southwestern University. Van has devoted his career to improving educational access and affordability for students and has led numerous projects such as the development of Texas’ adult degree completion initiative, Texas’ statewide course redesign project, and the development of the first competency-based baccalaureate degrees at Texas public institutions. Van lives outside of Austin, Texas with his beloved wife where he enjoys hiking, camping, and building LEGO models.
Russ Poulin leads the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, which advocates for effective practices and policies for digital learning in higher education. WCET’s members represent institutions, state agencies, corporations, and non-profit organizations from all fifty states. In paying attention to federal, state, and institution policies, he twice represented the distance education and competency-based education communities in federal negotiated rulemaking processes. The Presidents’ Forum, Excelsior College, the National University Technology Network, and the Online Learning Consortium have all recognized Russ for his contributions. He is also partial to movies, cats, and his wife, Laurie. Contact: or @RussPoulin.

Extended Abstract

Recent regulatory changes to the definition of distance education will have a profound impact on how instructional designers and faculty develop and teach distance education courses. These changes are particularly significant given the use of online education as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the huge increase in the number of both faculty and students in online education courses, consumer expectations around the quality of online education, and accreditor attention to online education. This session will focus on recent changes to the Department of Education’s definition of distance education with an emphasis on the new definition of regular and substantive interaction. Attendees in this session will:

  • Understand recent changes to the definition of distance education with an emphasis on:
    • Current understanding of modalities covered in the definition,
    • Definition of “instructor,”
    • Definition of “regular,” and
    • Definition of “substantive.”
  • Understand the pedagogical impact of the changes to the definition of distance education including a discussion of its impact on:
    • Course design,
    • Instructional delivery,
    • Faculty engagement,
    • Student engagement, and
    • Financial aid eligibility.
  • Participate in the development of collaborative strategies for translating federal regulatory requirements into institutional policies.
  • Participate in the development of collaborative strategies translating federal regulatory requirements into instructional best practices.

The session will incorporate a combination of didactic and interactive interactions. Session speakers will provide ample time to answer participant questions.