A Question About “Contact”

Many states (mine included) have laws governing the amount of “contact hours” an instructor must have with students, i.e. the required number of combined in-class and office hours.  However, at least here in New York, there are no guidelines for translating this law to apply to online courses.

How should these laws be understood and met in an online context?

Do only face-to-face meetings count?  Are text and video chat the closest equivalent?  What about discussion boards?  Email?  How are we to understand such requirements in the digital age?

Comments 3

  1. avatar Lisa M Lane wrote:

    In California, “regular, effective student contact” needs to be part of the approval process for a course offered online. That means the college must explain how the course will achieve this amount, at least this is the process for community colleges.

    In practice, of course, it’s quite different. The course level of approval means one has to speak in very general terms about the intentions, since individual class sections are taught by different instructors using different methods. As a result, this issue tends to be part of faculty evaluation as much as Education Code.

    Posted 25 Sep 2011 at 4:25 pm
  2. avatar Brandon wrote:

    @Lisa: So, then, I guess the question comes down to if this isn’t really formulated in any way that can be enforced, what might be a good way to think about it for online courses? I don’t think it’s reasonable, for instance, to think that only chat counts or, even more strict, only video chat counts. But how are we meant to think about discussion board?

    It seems like the problems with these conditions, even though they come from a good place (I think), is that it doesn’t keep up with the changing face of education in a digital age. I understand contact hours as being in place to assure that students are getting a good education, but if you start enforcing them strictly in terms of “contact,” then you run the risk of undermining that very goal.

    *Sigh*

    Posted 26 Sep 2011 at 8:42 pm
  3. avatar Lisa M Lane wrote:

    Agreed – the concept needs to change, but the closest thing I can think of is “time on task” in a way that emphasizes “regular and effective student contact”.

    To me, the problem is that my entire course design, the way I’ve phrased and planned assignments and questions, is also contact. It’s not just their emails to me. I know that some teachers emphasize announcements or emails to show “contact” — synchronous sessions are not necessary. On a discussion board, what if the instructor’s pedagogy says they shouldn’t post themselves? Are they able to show contact?

    I think that’s the reason that our course approvals are based on the intentions, the ways instructors do plan to emphasize contact, because the result of not doing so could be a course in which the instructor just posts stuff and never comes by.

    Posted 29 Sep 2011 at 12:50 am

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