Whether you are reviewing a peer’s course or designing your own, you may ask yourself, “What Ohio State policies should be fulfilled in every course?”
Classes, regardless of modality (in-person, hybrid, or online), operate within a shared group of principles, with similar expectations for rigor, student effort, and teaching pace. This guide is meant to provide clarity about how key policies and expectations apply to different modalities.
If you are new to online or hybrid teaching, you’ll find that many of the evidence-based practices that you use for your in-person classes, such as backward design, apply in online courses as well. You will also find that many important university policies, such as expectations for instructor engagement and student participation, remain relevant regardless of your course’s modality.
The parameters below are outlined in federal and state regulations and university policies to ensure that students in your online classes receive the best and most equitable education possible. Following these guidelines not only ensures that your course reflects important regulations and expectations, but also sets you on the path to developing an excellent online course!
Labeling the Course Modality
The university uses four class modalities with distinct definitions: In Person (P), Hybrid (H), Distance Enhanced (DH), and Distance Learning (DL). Each modality has different, interrelated implications, so it is crucial that classes are labeled and offered in a manner consistent with these definitions.
Among other considerations, your course modality has an effect on:
- Course approval requirements; your college curriculum committee must approve classes to be offered online
- Academic program approval requirements, if a program reaches the threshold of eligibility as a distance program
- Class scheduling
- Student tuition, depending on whether students are enrolled in fully online programs
- Student access, flexibility, and expectations
- Types of accommodations that may be needed for students with disabilities
See the glossary for detailed definitions of each course modality.
Consistent with expectations from the Higher Learning Commission, Distance Learning (DL) courses at Ohio State go through the colleges to ensure that they meet necessary regulatory and accreditation requirements and fulfill other expectations related to the integrity of course delivery. Contact your college or department curricular leaders for more information.
For details about the program approval process, refer to Online Program Development Process.
Structure and Credit Hours
Online classes must meet federal and state guidelines for equivalent “class time,” or direct instruction, and “out-of-class” time. Class time often includes lectures, discussions, and quizzes or exams, while out-of-class activities may consist of readings, study, or work for papers and projects. As the instructor, you’re typically the ultimate decision-maker in determining alignment to credit hour expectations, but a good rule of thumb is whether the instruction enables students to achieve the same outcomes as could be met in an in-person offering of the class.
Learn more about Credit Hour Estimation for online instruction.
Section (A) of Faculty Rule 3335-8-19 requires all courses to have a syllabus, provided to each student, that explains how the student’s performance will be assessed. Syllabus guidelines may differ depending on the program, department, or college. For guidance on writing a syllabus, see the Office of Undergraduate Education’s Course Syllabus Recommendations.
If you’re developing a syllabus for an online course, most Ohio State colleges and online programs offer some or all of the following recommendations.
Provide clear expectations about any required synchronous, or live and scheduled, sessions.
Depending on their recent experience with online courses, students may expect participation to be completely asynchronous, meaning that work can be done each week according to their own schedules, or fully synchronous, where they may or may not expect a high level of participation. Be sure to make your students explicitly aware of required synchronous sessions, ideally in both your syllabus and the class schedule in BuckeyeLink. According to Faculty Rule 3335-8-15, instructors may not change the hour or place of class meetings without approval from the Registrar. If your class will have synchronous meetings but they are not listed in the class schedule, work with your college or department scheduler to add them.
List all required technology, with instructions for how to access technical support.
Provide clear instructions on how students can get technical support for the tools used in your course, especially if they cannot get assistance from the IT Service Desk.
Include accessibility, data privacy, and cost information for any technologies not provided or supported by Ohio State.
Share information on how students can get accessibility accommodations if required, how their data is used and stored, and any information regarding fees or costs beyond the cost of required textbook(s).
Remember that the Online and Hybrid Syllabus Template is available for you to use as a starting point or to add specific sections and language to your existing syllabus document.
“Regular and Substantive Interaction” Between Instructors and Students
The Department of Education defines regular and substantive interaction as interactions that engage students in teaching, learning, and assessment consistent with at least two substantive activities, with scheduled and predictable learning opportunities, and with responsive and proactive monitoring of a student’s academic engagement and success. Courses meant for distance must fulfill the “regular and substantive” criterion by federal mandate.
But what exactly is meant by "regular and substantive"? These interactions must be initiated by you, regular and frequent, and meaningful or academic in nature. The myth that online learning is solitary comes from an earlier day when we knew far less about how students learn and succeed online. Your online course will only be successful if you establish a strong instructor presence and facilitate constructive interactions with your students.
How can you meet the regular interactions requirement?
To meet the regular interactions requirement, you should:
- Have scheduled and predictable interaction opportunities in your course. In other words, it must be clear how and when instruction will be provided. This might include scheduling a predictable series of dates and times for synchronous sessions or a set date and time when new asynchronous content will be released. A syllabus statement outlining when synchronous sessions will occur, or when new content will be uploaded, will fulfill this requirement.
- Monitor students’ academic engagement in your course. In other words, you should build in opportunities to track and intervene in a student’s progress through the semester. Regularly assigned activities, quizzes, or tests that evaluate student knowledge and engagement all fulfill this requirement.
How can you meet the substantive interactions requirement?
To meet the substantive interactions requirement, you should do at least two of the following:
- Provide “direct instruction” to students. This includes participating in asynchronous activities, such as discussion boards, and synchronous activities, such as live-streamed lectures.
- Assess and/or provide feedback on a students’ coursework.
- Provide information or respond to questions about your course content through Q&A sessions, discussion boards, or course announcements.
- Facilitate a group discussion regarding your course content, synchronously or asynchronously.
- Create other instructional activities approved by relevant institutional accrediting agencies.
Class Interactions and Participation
Beyond regular and substantive interaction, you should keep in mind a number of other policies around class participation.
Ensure your students are able to reach you outside of class time.
The Office of Academic Affairs notes that instructors should be available to students throughout the semester outside of class time. The best way to maintain this form of contact is scheduling some form of office hours. Often, your department will have more specific guidance regarding office hours, particularly in asynchronous settings.
Give your students a required participation activity at least once each week.
Students should have weekly instructional activities and homework consistent with the term length and number of credit hours. It’s crucial that at least one activity each week is measurable and documented as a sign of attendance; for example, an assignment submission in Canvas or another tool. This ensures that you can monitor engagement and pinpoint the date when a student last participated, if needed, per an institutional requirement related to student financial aid.
Examples of participation activities include:
- Submitting an assignment
- Taking a quiz or exam
- Responding to a discussion post
- Exchanging emails with the instructor about an academic topic.
For a full list of recommended ways to ensure weekly participation, see Student Participation and Attendance in Online Classes. Note that there is no requirement to proactively record students’ attendance in your online class, except for the first-week participation roster.
Register each student’s first-week attendance in a participation roster.
Federal Title IV regulations require all instructors to complete a “participation roster” during the first week of class. You will receive an email around the first week of class explaining how to fill out this roster. The roster allows you to either answer “yes,” indicating that the student has attended in some way, or “no,” if the student has not.
For both ethical and legal reasons, your course materials must be accessible and meet copyright and fair use requirements. Keep the following practices in mind:
Present all documents, instructions, and materials in your course in formats that are accessible for all students.
Digital services and materials, including course materials, are subject to Ohio State’s Digital Accessibility Policy When materials are "accessible,” they can be used and navigated by students with vision, auditory, motor, or cognitive disabilities. Providing accessible materials gives all students the ability to access course content at the same time. It is easier to proactively create your materials with accessibility in mind than to retroactively make them accessible. Always follow accessibility best practices from the get-go when building your course.
Learn more about Digital Accessibility Services.
Provide copyrighted materials to students securely through the library or have a detailed fair use claim documented.
Providing materials online to your students necessitates additional considerations around copyright law. If you show students a PowerPoint presentation or video clip in a face-to-face class, you aren’t giving them access to the material forever. But in an online environment, the works you share are easier for students to copy or distribute. Be sure to follow best practices when using licensed library materials and copyright exceptions, such as the TEACH Act or fair use.
Learn more about Copyright Services at the University Libraries.
The Committee on Academic Misconduct (COAM) is charged with maintaining the academic integrity of the university by establishing procedures and investigating all reported cases of alleged academic misconduct. Students are accountable for the fairness and honesty of their academic work as outlined in the Code of Student Conduct. Familiarize yourself with these university policies and the strategies you can use to promote an environment of integrity in your course.
The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (or FERPA) is a federal law designed to protect the privacy of student educational records. Regardless of a course’s modality, faculty, staff, student employees, and other agents of the university must conform to FERPA guidelines. Read up on the FERPA guidelines and always keep them in mind while maintaining and delivering your course.
A number of federal, state, and university policies factor into how you should design or re-design your online and hybrid courses.
- Know the modality of your class and the university’s definition and expectations for that modality before planning your course.
- Be sure you have met all necessary regulatory and accreditation requirements for distance-learning courses through your department or college.
- Align to credit hour expectations for online courses and abide by federal and state guidelines for equivalent “class time” and “out-of-class” time.
- Provide a syllabus that includes clear information about synchronous sessions, how to get help with any required technology, and any accessibility, privacy and cost information for tools not supported by Ohio State.
- Follow guidelines for regular and substantive interactions with your students throughout your course.
- Promote student participation and interaction: Register their first week of attendance in a participation roster, ensure they can reach you outside of class time, and include at least one required participation activity per week.
- Ensure that all materials in your course are presented in accessible formats and are in line with copyright considerations and best practices.
- Familiarize yourself with university policy and proactively promote an environment of academic integrity in your course.
- Know FERPA guidelines and keep them in mind throughout the design and delivery of your course.