Faculty Focus


Three Distance Educations Regulations – Are You in Compliance?

If you are a distance education administrator, you know that running an effective program means more than just developing courses and ensuring consistent delivery. It also means complying with key regulations that impact the operations and experience of the program.

Deb Gearhart is the vice provost for e-learning and strategic partnerships at Ohio University. In her online seminar, Three New Distance Education Regulations: How to Comply, she discusses three important regulations that often prove confusing to distance educators.

1. First is student authentication, a regulation that requires programs to ensure that the student who registers for a course is the same one who does the work and receives the academic credit. To meet this, institutions must address both authentication of a student’s identity and issues surrounding academic integrity.

Three approaches are typically used for student authentication: secure log-ins and passwords, use of proctored exams, and use of technology-based authentication systems. Technology is the fastest changing of these, encompassing biometrics such as fingerprints, iris and retina scans, voice patterns, and signatures. Institutional policies and practices, on the other hand, typically address academic integrity. Gearhart offers a robust discussion of the technologies and methods currently available to authenticate student identity and encourage academic integrity.

2. The second regulation concerns the definition of a credit hour. The federal definition of a credit hour requires one hour of classroom interaction and two hours of out-of-class work per week of the term for each credit awarded. This definition impacts accrediting agencies as well, which are required to assess the institutional application of these policies. Gearhart stresses the importance of adopting precise and comprehensive institutional policies on credit hours, and she provides numerous examples of successful policies currently in use.

3. Finally, the last day of attendance regulation is related to Title IV HEA funding and presents a special challenge for distance educators. In a face-to-face class, it is relatively easy to demonstrate that there has been “regular and substantive interaction between the students and faculty,” but it is much more difficult in an online course.

Many distance education programs have grown accustomed to using the last date of log-in as the last day of attendance for a student, but the Department of Education now requires that there be “academically related activity,” not just attendance via log-in. Gearhart explains that “consistency is the key to making institutional policy for LDA.” She notes that the same policies should cover all courses, and if this is not practical, they should cover all online courses. The syllabus should spell out last day of attendance policies, and drop and withdrawal policies should be applied consistently to avoid potential DOE fines.

Gearhart discusses practical methods for complying with these important regulations in her seminar presented last month. Combined with in-depth supplemental materials, her seminar is a valuable tool for understanding the issues and the techniques for addressing them. Learn more »