March 30, 2021
At its February 2021 meeting, the CAA approved changes to its definition of distance education (DE) to reflect the updated definition presented by the United States Department of Education (USDE), which goes into effect July 1, 2021. The updates to the DE definition relate to permitted technologies and expectations for regular and substantive interactions between students and instructors.
The CAA’s revised definition, found in the Seeking Approval of Substantive Changes policy in Chapter XI Expectations of Programs in the Accreditation Handbook, states:
For purposes of accreditation review, a distance education (DE) program is defined as a formal educational process in which 50% or more of the required graduate academic credit hours, excluding practicum, may be accrued when the learner is separated from the instructor or instructors using one or more of the technologies listed below, and there is support for regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor or instructors. The interaction may be synchronous or asynchronous.
Programs must use interactive technologies in their distance education programs, which may include one or more of the following:
The CAA expects that substantive interactions engage students in teaching, learning, and assessment, consistent with the content under discussion, and include at least two of the following:
The program must ensure that the instructor(s) are providing the opportunity for substantive interactions with the student on a predictable and regular basis commensurate with the length of time and the amount of content in the course or competency. Further, the program must ensure that the student’s academic engagement and success are being monitored and that the instructor(s) is responsible for promptly and proactively engaging with the student based on the monitoring, or upon request by the student.
If distance education is used as an additional delivery mode or as a separate track of an existing residential program, it must be evaluated as a component of the primary accredited program.
What constitutes regular and substantive interactions is now delineated and accreditors like the CAA must ensure that programs that offer distance education engage in these ways and are able to document these engagements. To support this expanded definition, the CAA has added new questions to address elements in Standards 3.1 Academic and Clinical Curriculum, 4.3 Student Intervention, 4.6 Student Advising, 4.7 Student Progress Documentation, and 6.5 Technical Infrastructure. These questions will prompt programs for information about how faculty engage with DE students related to teaching, learning, and assessment.
Updates will be reflected in the substantive change application to collect this information from programs applying for a new DE program for which the materials would be due August 1, 2021 or after.
For programs that already offer any coursework via distance education the CAA will collect this information as part of the second COVID-19 Impact Survey to be fielded in summer 2021.