Increasing Student Engagement With Regular and Substantive Interaction

How many days do you log into Canvas and interact with the students? How quickly do you give helpful feedback on activities and assessments? Do you set your students’ expectations by including an email/discussion response statement in your syllabus?

Why do we pose these questions? Frequent interaction and purposeful engagement with students are a hallmark of excellence in teaching and learning. It looks different depending on whether you are teaching in-person, hybrid/blended, or online.  We ask students in our in-person courses to log into Canvas every day to see announcements, their grades and feedback, and content. This provides opportunities to increase engagement with students outside of the scheduled classroom time. For hybrid and online faculty, we can use best practices to increase engagement with students who may be residential or remote.

decorative image of regular and substantive interaction

Faculty who teach online regularly or occasionally should be aware of Regular & Substantive Interaction (RSI), a regulation from the Department of Education that went into effect July 2021. RSI is a determination of whether an online course is a correspondence course (which doesn’t qualify for Federal financial aid) or a distance education course. These recommendations also apply to in-person teaching.

Fortunately, we have resources like the Quality Scorecard from the Online Learning Consortium to help us identify how we are meeting RSI and areas where we may need to improve our efforts. Over the next few months, we will share the criteria with suggestions on how to put them into practice.

The scorecard is divided into 6 sections: Course Overview and Information, Course Technology and Tools, Design and Layout, Content and Activities, Interaction, and Assessment and Feedback.

Let’s look at the first two sections.

Course Overview and Information:

  • The course includes a welcome and how to get started, as well as an overall orientation. Content is organized in Modules.
  • Module overviews make content, activities, assignments, due dates, interactions, and assessments transparent, predictable and easy to find. *A suggested best practice is to include an overview page as the first page of each module.
  • Course outcomes are observable and measurable, and congruent with the assessments and assignments.
  • Include the online learner success resources and contact information for the department and program, in addition to instructor information.

Course Technology and Tools:

  • It is extremely important to use Canvas, WCU’s approved and supported LMS.
  • Include information on how to contact the IT HelpDesk in a prominent place so students can find it when they need it.

Remember, these RSI standards are useful in increasing student engagement in any modality!

Next up in this series: 

Designing for Student Engagement using RSI

The CFC would love to partner with you to design, redesign, or make improvements to your Canvas course.  Let us know what you need through our Consultations Scheduling Page.


Source: Regular and Substantive Interaction, SUNYOnline –

Questions about WCU IRB? We Are Here to Help!

Guest Blogger: Dr. Mallory Ball, Director, Research Compliance & Integrity

If you are interested in research, it is likely you have heard about the IRB.  The acronym “IRB” stands for “Institutional Review Board” and is a committee established to review and approve applications for research projects involving human subjects, regardless of funding source. The IRB reviews all projects conducted at or under the auspices of WCU by WCU personnel.

Per Federal Requirements: Before participants are recruited or data is collected, the IRB must review and approve all research conducted by WCU faculty, staff, or students, regardless of funding source. Research may not begin until an approval or exemption letter is received from the IRB.

The IRB process can be somewhat intimidating when navigating it for the first time. However, the Research Compliance Office is here to help!  We have recently been updating our website to include additional options for availability as well as adding new and improved educational documents to bring clarity to this process.

Some of these updates can be seen below:

    • The Office of Research Administration hosts virtual office hours to assist investigators in answering questions related to developing and preparing IRB submissions for review from 1:00 – 2:00 pm on the first Thursday of every month. No formal appointments are necessary, just join the meeting at the scheduled time. For other days and times, please reach out to us to set up individual appointments.

For those new to the process, we have also added a Flowchart on our FAQ page to help you determine if your study falls under IRB jurisdiction (Human Subjects Research).

Please note: If you find that your research activity may not be subject to IRB approval, it is a best practice to confirm with us and obtain an official determination letter for documentation purposes.

An Image that shows the IRB process at WCU. Links to a PDF document.,

Click on Image above to open full Infographic.

Remember: WCU’s IRB uses InfoEd for all IRB submissions and the review process. Please visit the InfoEd training page for more information.

We look forward to working with you on your research endeavors and hope that you find these resources helpful, but we are always striving to improve this process for you and will always welcome your feedback! You can contact us by emailing or calling 828.227.2921.

Spring Teaching & Learning Day Event

This workshop will take an intimate look at neurodiversity and many of the characteristics resulting from seeing the world through a very different lens. We will engage in several activities that will provide a glimpse into living with a learning disability and ADHD. Participants will leave with a deeper understanding of this population along with their strengths and challenges. Come prepared to move around, share your thoughts, and participate in experiential lessons designed to help you better serve this dynamic population.

Save Your Spot!

Let us know if you are going to attend this exceptional workshop!

John Willson received a B.A. in Sociology in 1990 from Texas State University and an M.S in Outdoor Therapeutic Recreation Administration from Aurora University in 1993. John has spent over 30 years working in youth programs with an emphasis on youth diagnosed with learning and attention challenges. He has led hundreds of adventure courses throughout North America, Costa Rica, and Belize. He is currently the Executive Director of SOAR, a non profit residential academic boarding school, summer adventure camp, and Gap year program serving youth diagnosed with learning disabilities and ADHD.

Along with his responsibilities at SOAR, John is currently the Past President of the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) of North Carolina. He also served on the national board for CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficiency / Hyperactivity Disorder).

He actively presents to teachers, parents and professionals at local, state and national conferences. In addition, he has been an adjunct professor at Western Carolina University and Mars Hill College teaching Outdoor Recreation, Therapeutic Recreation, and Leadership courses. His certifications include Wilderness First Responder, PADI Rescue Diver, State licensed Recreation Therapist, and Nationally Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist.

Finally, and most importantly, he is an adult thriving with ADHD and the proud parent of two magnificent, creative, children living with learning and attention challenges.

Popcorn & Pedagogy Oct 25, 12:30 pm HL 186

Coulter Faculty Commons 

High Impact Practice (HIP) Educational Development Program: Popcorn & Pedagogy 

HIP focus: Collaborative Assignments & Projects 


Evidence shows that High Impact Practices (HIPs) offer educational benefits for students, including increased rates of student retention and student engagement. One of several HIPs includes collaborative assignments & projects. Join us in an interactive conversation about how two experienced WCU faculty members successfully use collaborative assignments & projects to strengthen intellectual skills and engagement of their students. The first in a series of conversations, we are pleased to roll out our new educational development program: Popcorn & Pedagogy. 


Tuesday October 25, 2022 

12:30-1:45 pm (Program)
2:00-3:00 pm (Optional Workshop) Stay for a while longer to draft a collaborative assignment or project for one of your classes. 

You bring a sandwich. We’ll make fresh popcorn! 


  1. Promote academic excellence by recognizing and celebrating outstanding faculty that engage in high impact practices (tied to WCU Strategic Goal 1.2.3).  
  2. Provide an easy access point for faculty who want to adopt or improve existing high impact practices in their classes (tied to WCU Strategic Goal 1.2.1).  
  3. Eat popcorn. 


WCU’s expert faculty are known for engaging students in high impact practices.  Two faculty members will share their expertise. You’ll have an opportunity to ask them questions. 


Rebekah Campbell

Rebekah Campbell, MS is a full-time instructor in Parks and Recreation Management in the Human Service Department.  Her passion is exploring and applying experiential learning methodologies to create a more dynamic and engaging learning process for students. 

Wes Stone, PhD is the Director and a Professor in the School of Engineering + Technology. His primary teaching duties are in product development, using a project-based learning (PBL) approach. His research interests are focused on outdoor gear design, analysis, and testing. 


Hunter Library 186 

Learning Outcomes: 

  • Identify the benefits of implementing collaborative assignments and projects for both students and professors. 
  • Examine collaborative assignments and projects used by experienced faculty. 
  • Determine how elements of collaborative assignments and projects might work in your own classes and programs. 

Program Deliverables: 

  • Connected learning with your colleagues. 
  • Space and time to think intentionally about collaborative assignments and projects in the context of your own courses and programs. 
  • Resources for further reading and exploration. 

Optional Workshop Deliverable: 

  • Draft a collaborative assignment or project for one of your courses. 


Look for more information about our next HIP conversation coming soon!  

“Feeling Seen and Appreciated”: Student Feedback Preferences

Guest Bloggers: Candy Noltensmeyer and Lisa Bloom

Feedback is an integral part of the learning process. Many studies have examined feedback from the instructor’s perspective to enhance student learning. However, there is less research assessing how students perceive different types of feedback and their usefulness. 

Feedback is often a struggle for professors as it can be quite time consuming. Additionally, faculty are often left not knowing whether students have reviewed the feedback. On the other hand, some of us have heard students complain about the lack of feedback from professors. This leads us to wonder what kind of feedback students actually want.

Well, we asked students the question, and they responded with only minimal reminders to complete our survey!  We asked students about 3 specific types of feedback, written, audio, and video, and what they liked, disliked, and how each type made them feel. Additionally, we asked them to rate whether the feedback was engaging, easy to access, and easy to understand. Participants from courses in Education, Communication, and Integrated Health Sciences responded to Likert-type questions on a scale of 1-5 as well as open-ended questions.  

What we learned

Overall, students reported a preference for video feedback. While accessibility and understanding were ranked slightly higher for written feedback, video and audio closely followed. Students struggled a bit with accessing audio files. Students mentioned that replaying audio and video files was a bit cumbersome when searching for specific feedback, while they preferred the ease of skimming written feedback. But when it came to engagement, students really preferred video feedback. Most striking is the overwhelming number of comments about feeling connection and care from the feedback, audio and video in particular.

Topic Audio   Video   Written  
The Feedback was… Mean Broad Agreement Mean Broad Agreement Mean Broad Agreement
Engaging 4.40 86% 4.59 91.9% 4.12 78.7%
Easy to Access 4.05 76.2% 4.65 91.9% 4.67 93.9%
Easy to Understand 4.51 90.7% 4.68 91.9% 4.52 92.9%

Here is what the students told us.

Audio feedback

“It made me feel proud of my work and happy to do such a good job on it. I enjoyed hearing the professor’s enthusiasm.”

“I liked how I was able to hear your tone and it was much easier to understand compared to reading off feedback (sometimes it’s confusing on paper).”

“I enjoyed hearing my professor’s voice- especially with this course being delivered in an asynchronous, online fashion. I enjoyed the verbal insights!”

“It felt much more personalized. Rather than a few words, or sentences that seem pretty generic, the audio feedback really gave me that feeling that my work was being read and analyzed.”

Video feedback

“The video feedback just made me feel more seen and appreciated.”

“It made me feel like I was one on one with the professor and sometimes is hard to come by in college.”

“During COVID, it has been weird to not be able to see my professors’ faces, so it was nice to be able to fully see their faces. It also felt more personal and somewhat like a conversation even though the professor was the only one talking.”

“Made me feel like a student rather than just a number with a generic response.”

Written feedback

“I understand that professors can’t write a book of feedback every time they grade something, but it just never feels like enough to go off of. It feels like I am getting the bare minimum amount of help.”

“It feels detached from my work and I feel like there is not as much effort with written feedback.”


In summary, students do appreciate feedback.  They are looking for feedback not just regarding an assessment of their performance and how to improve, but feedback is also a vehicle for relationship building.  As you are grading your students’ work, consider the audio and video feedback options afforded by Canvas.  We found these options to take only a little extra time, and the results were definitely worth it. The benefit comes in building strong relationships with students which translates into more engaged learning and positive classroom environments.  Students perceived feedback as evidence that they have been seen, heard, and regarded as individuals amongst a sea of others.  So, while you might be swimming in ungraded assignments, remember, that your feedback has the potential to be the life preserver that keeps a student engaged.