Title 5 and Distance Education: Is Separate Course Review Enough?

ASCCC Area A Representative
ASCCC North Representative
Mendocino College

At the September 2018 Board of Governors (BOG) meeting at Southwestern College, the BOG approved changes to Title 5 §§55200-55210.[1] The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) endorsed proposed changes to the regulations through Resolution 6.08 in Spring 2018. While the changes are not drastic, the updated regulations do include specific requirements that local academic senates, curriculum committees, and distance education committees will need to incorporate into their separate course review for distance education courses if colleges’ existing processes do not already adhere to the revised regulations.

The updated Title 5 language recasts requirements for regular and effective contact to include student-tostudent contact and exclude “correspondence.” The changes also require that a separately reviewed distance education course addendum to the course outline of record (COR) delineate how distance education (DE) courses provide regular and effective contact, adhere to accessibility requirements, and meet the course outcomes. Accessibility and regular and effective contact must be listed at the course level in the DE addendum to the COR, and they are required for all DE sections.

The regulations also address instructor preparation. Given the evolution and expansion of the California Virtual Campus—Online Education Initiative (CVCOEI) and the decision of many colleges to adopt its course design rubric or similar standards for local use, updating local processes for online course review may also provide an opportunity for the local academic senate to have a broader conversation about the nature of distance education, how the college hopes to serve students through its DE offerings, and how the college ensures that regular and effective contact and accessibility are maintained subsequent to the separate course review of DE addenda.

Below is a comprehensive description of the revisions to Title 5 §§ 55200-55210 as approved by the Board of Governors in September:

§55200. Definition and Application. This section defines DE courses to include asynchronous modes of delivery and unwaveringly asserts that “instruction provided as distance education is subject to the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. § 12100 et seq.) and section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. § 794d).”

§55202. Course Quality Standards. The updated language now reads “The same standards of course quality shall be applied to any portion of a class conducted through distance education as are applied to in-person classes …”

This section of the regulation, which still asserts that “Determinations and judgements about the quality” of DE courses “shall be made with the full involvement of faculty” has been modified in two significant ways: It is now specific to “classes” as opposed to courses, and it now compares DE courses with “in-person classes” as opposed to “traditional classroom courses.” The second of these changes is reflective of the fact that for many students, distance education may be just as traditional as in-person classes. Importantly, the first change accentuates that course quality applies to all classes; the specificity of this regulatory change emphasizes that educational quality must be ensured at the section level.

§55204. Instructor Contact. While this section had already established that DE courses include regular and effective contact, the regulation now broadens the requirement to encompass not only professor-tostudent contact but also student-to-student contact. For colleges that have locally adopted the CVC-OEI Course Design Rubric or who are CVC-OEI Consortium colleges, that student-to-student contact is also a requirement of the rubric. The update clarifies that the contact can be synchronous or asynchronous but excludes correspondence as a means of maintaining regular and effective contact. The striking of “correspondence” from the previous language brings the requirements for regular and effective contact into alignment with §600.2 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which distinguishes between distance education and correspondence courses on the basis of regular and substantive interaction. The state and federal regulations require that faculty are actively participating meaningfully with DE students and creating learning environments where they engage meaningfully with one another.

§55206. Separate Course Approval. The most significant revisions are contained in this section, which now requires a separately reviewed addendum to the course outline of record for any existing or new DE courses, including hybrid courses. The addendum must “address how course outcomes will be achieved in a distance education mode” and specify how the course maintains regular and effective contact and adheres to the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Many colleges already have a separate course review and approval process, but those that do not should take steps through their academic senates, curriculum committees, and DE committees to develop a procedure that adheres to this requirement. Colleges that do have such a process should review it to ensure that the updated requirements regarding regular and effective contact found in §55204 are reflected and that the process adequately addresses the other requirements of this section. The ASCCC paper Ensuring an Effective Online Program: A Faculty Perspective[2] includes an appendix that directs to five California community colleges’ DE course evaluation forms or addenda.

§55208. Faculty Selection and Workload. The update adds a new clause requiring instructor preparation: “Instructors of distance education shall be prepared to teach in a distance education delivery method consistent with local district policies and negotiated agreements.” Local academic senates should share this updated language with union colleagues.


Designing and maintaining course content that is ADA and 508 compliant is critical for ensuring access to education for students, as well as for avoiding lawsuits. While the DE addendum required by §55206 must specify how the course will meet ADA and 508 requirements, the review and approval of the addendum occurs at the course—not the class or section—level. While the addendum may specify practices for ensuring accessibility of courses, a single, inaccessible document—for example, a PDF with columns and tables that are not properly identified, an image without an alt tag, an uncaptioned video, or an infographic featuring colored text with low contrast to its background—uploaded to a single section of a course would be in violation of §55200, as all content delivered in the DE modality is subject to ADA and 508 requirements. So, while delineating means of meeting ADA and 508 requirements in the DE addendum to the COR is a good—and mandated—place to start, this procedural requirement will not necessarily ensure accessibility of all DE courses. On the contrary, instructors who enjoy the privilege of teaching DE courses need to be proficient in designing and providing accessible content, especially given that class content does not remain static from term to term and given that in some cases content that publishers have promised to be accessible has been found to be inaccessible.

For colleges to regularly provide accessible content in their DE courses, they may need to change their instructional culture. Accessibility specialists, hightech center staff, and instructional designers may act as resources, but they may not have the capacity to ensure accessibility of all course content in all sections. Academic senates, through faculty development committees and DE review committees, can work to provide appropriate professional development to faculty as well as assist with developing review processes that help ensure all aspects of DE sections are accessible. A component of the CVC-OEI Course Design Rubric is accessibility. Resources will be needed to adopt this rubric for local use and provide training for faculty who teach DE classes to deliver accessible content, but these are meaningful steps colleges can take to serve all of students better and to avoid egregious liability.


Recently, a student posted to social media a screenshot of back-to-back, identical positive feedback on different assignments from the same course. The student bemoaned in his post, “But how am I supposed to grow if my professor copy [sic] and pastes feedback?” followed by a crying emoji. As DE instructors receive assignments at different times from students of differing skill levels and learning styles whom they perhaps have never met in person, they strive to provide meaningful interactions in humanizing ways that are conducive to learning.

As with meeting accessibility requirements, means of providing regular and effective contact are required to be listed on the DE addendum. However, faculty must recognize that the addendum to the COR, though directive to sections, is not necessarily identical to what may occur in any given section of a class. Many horror stories exist of students in phantom online classes where students wait for some time for feedback and, getting none within a reasonable time, lack direction in how to improve their work or simply choose to stop trying, asking if the instructor is not really there, why they should be. Stories have also circulated of students taking a course that has little to no instructor interaction, amounting to an online correspondence course. Nearly tantamount is the cold and automated course, driven by publisher-generated content, in which students are instantly scored or even provided with pre-loaded pointers as they work toward answers on objective problems. The simple truth of the matter is that providing regular and effective contact, especially asynchronously, warrants a great deal of dedication, thoughtfulness, and time.

The ASCCC paper Ensuring an Effective Online Program: A Faculty Perspective discusses regular and effective contact in-depth, leveraging the relevant context of accreditation actions and the federal definition of regular and substantive interaction. It provides the direction that regular and effective contact should exhibit the following three characteristics:

  • consistent and predictable
  • faculty-initiated
  • more than just a boilerplate assessment of student work

The updated Title 5 regulations also necessitate that faculty design learning encounters in which students interact with each other. While this practice has not been a specific requirement in the past, effective online instructors regularly facilitate student-to-student contact in an effort to develop community and connection within their classes. Discussions, partner and group projects or assignments, and peer review are just a sampling of common means for facilitating student-to-student contact.

While means of providing regular and effective contact must be listed on the DE addendum to the COR, each faculty member must provide it in his or her own way in all DE sections, not only to ensure compliance with §55204 but for the more important purpose of keeping students engaged and supporting their success. The updated Title 5 language dictates the necessity, but in truth the college and faculty have a combined responsibility to ensure meaningful and compliant learning experiences in each individual section of a course. Providing faculty development on regular and effective contact and accessibility combined with supportive class review processes are but two means to address this responsibility. 

1. Item 2.1, Proposed Title 5 Revisions to the Distance Educa tion Regulations. California Community Colleges Board of Governors Meeting. September 17-18, 2018. https://extranet.cccco.edu/Portals/1/ExecutiveOffice/Board/2018_agendas…. At the time of this writing, these approved revisions have not yet been published. They are currently under routine review by the Department of Finance and are expected to be published very soon.

2. Ensuring an Effective Online Program: A Faculty Perspective. ASCCC, 2018. https://www.asccc.org/sites/default/files/Ensuring_an_Effective_Online…