The following calculator is a simple tool designed to assist online instructors assess their online discussion board (forum) times to meet clock hour requirements. Discussion boards are typically used to create the regular and substantive interactions for an asynchronous online course (Title IV). However, instructors often have difficulty assessing how much time they are spending on these interactions. This calculator is designed to assist with that assessment.

NOTE: This calculator is not designed to assess a defined activity as substantive. It is up to the instructor to create meaningful interactions (see below) with the student. This is a measure of time.

This tool is based on the average adult. When using the calculator, it is important to understand it’s assumptions and limitations. We cannot devise an all inclusive calculator that matches every educational setting. However, we hope that this calculator will be helpful in assessing discussion board activity time for Title IV requirements.

A brief overview of Title IV:

Title IV (title four) references the legislation that defines financial aid programs at the federal level. Financial aid is often the tool used by the government to enforce accreditation and quality standards in higher education.

In recent years, there has been a focus on the quality of online courses in higher education. Specifically, the difference between distance education courses and correspondence courses.

The Federal Government defines Distance Education as (34 CFR 600.02) education that uses technology to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously.

Whereas correspondence is defined as (34 CFR 600.02) a course provided by an institution under which the institution provides instructional materials, by mail or electronic transmission, including examinations on the materials, to students who are separated from the instructor. The interaction between the instructor and student is limited, is not regular and substantive, and is primarily initiated by the student. Correspondence courses are typically self-paced. Additionally, a correspondence course is not distance education.

A high level of importance has been placed on the onus of regular and substantive interactions. But what does that mean? By breaking down each element, we can begin to paint a picture of the government’s intent.

Substantive interactions typically follow what is considered to be best practices as defined by Poulin and Davis (n.d.). Their criteria include: 1) Interaction must be initiated by the instructor, 2) interactions must be regular (frequent), 3) Substantive or of an academic nature, and 4) Interaction must be with an instructor that meets accrediting agency standards (Poulin, Davis).

Regular interactions are typically defined as a week of time. Therefore, instructors should interact with their students on a weekly basis. The only exception is on scheduled weeks off (not to be confused with single holidays) during the standard academic term. Regular also indicates coursework is in accordance with the standard clock hour, a measurement of time generally recognized by most academic institutions. It is the clock hour measurement that this calculator is designed to assess.

Credit Hour (34 CFR 668.8(k) and (l)) is defined as an amount of work represented in intended learning outcomes and verified by evidence of student achievement that is an institutionally established equivalency that reasonably approximates not less than: (1) One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit, or ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time; or (2) At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours.

~ 34 C.F.R. § 600.2 (2016). Title 34: Education: § 600.2 definitions. 
~ Office of the Inspector General, (2012). Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College’s Administration of Title IV Programs. U.S. Department of Education.
~ Poulin, R., Davis, V. (n.d.). Interpreting what is required for “Regular and Substantive Interaction”.,   

Assumptions in the calculator:

  • Based on an avg. reading rate of 200 words per minute
  • A paragraph is an avg. length of 100 words (.5 min)
  • Page lengths are based on reading 200 words per minute (a 500-page avg = 2.5 min)
  • Reading Difficulty factor is 30% (easy is -30% and difficult is +30%)
  • Writing Difficulty factor is 50% (easy is -50% and difficult is +50%)
  • Class size is multiplied across each student response (n-1), each student to student response, and the average instructor response
  • Reading hour totals are assumed to be part of the discussion equation and NOT counted towards homework activity. Textual readings that are part of homework activities should be zeroed out for this calculation
  • Equations:
    • Reading Hours: (((Students-1)Posting per student)+(Students*Student to student)+(Reading difficulty(Required Reading*Avg WPP))+(Reading Difficulty(Other Prep Reading*Avg WPP))+Forum reading+((.5fInstructor Response)Students))/60
      • Note: all times in minutes with a division of 60 to calculate hours.
    • Writing Hours: (Initial postings* Writing difficulty)+(Student to student * Writing difficulty)
      • Note: all times in hours
    • Total Hours: Writing Hours + Reading Hours

Research behind the calculator:

  • Reading Rates
  • Writing Rates
  • Average page lengths