Physical Presence Policy | Determining Time on Task in Online Education

The New York State Board of Regents, through the State Education Department’s Office of Higher Education, is responsible for regulating and assuring the quality of credit-bearing higher education offered within the state. When higher education offerings originate outside New York State and are delivered through electronic media to students within the State, the questions arises as to whether that education is subject to state regulation.

New York uses the concept of “physical presence” to determine whether it has the right and the responsibility to exercise its regulatory quality assurance authority over electronically delivered instruction originating outside the State. The Office of Higher Education considers an institution to have a physical presence in New York State if it does one or more of the following things:

  • Operates an instructional site (a physical site at which instruction is given by a faculty member to a group of students) in New York State. The fact that the instruction at that site is given through an electronic medium (e.g., satellite delivery, videotape) rather than through an instructor physically present in the room, does not change the fact that it is an instructional site.
  • Sponsors organized activities within the State that are related to the academic program (e.g., advising, mentoring, study groups, examination administration).
  • Has a representative, whether paid or not, acting on its behalf within the state to arrange or conduct instructional or academic support activities. This would include a commercial vendor acting on behalf of the institution, or a New York higher education institution providing services to students of the out-of-state-institution.
  • Places students in clinical internships related to certain licensed professions (e.g., nursing, mental health counseling, respiratory therapy, etc.), the practices of which are typically restricted to licensed persons or students enrolled in educational programs approved or registered by the Department.

Activities that are NOT considered to establish physical presence in the State are:

  • Communicating electronically with students in New York State (e.g., by computer or broadcast) in ways that do NOT involve an instructional site or an organized group activity.
  • Advertising in New York State media.
  • Recruitment of students, e.g., at college fairs, job fairs, or trade shows.

Any institution outside New York State that offers or intends to offer credit-bearing instruction within the State that meets the definition of physical presence outlined above must apply to the Board of Regents through the State Education Department for permission to offer its programs. For information on this process, contact the Office of Higher Education at 518/474-2593.

Determining Time on Task in Online Education

Time on task is the total learning time spent by a student in a college course, including instructional time as well as time spent studying and completing course assignments (e.g., reading, research, writing, individual and group projects.) Regardless of the delivery method or the particular learning activities employed, the amount of learning time in any college course should meet the requirements of Commissioner's Regulation Section 50.1 (o), a total of 45 hours for one semester credit (in conventional classroom education this breaks down into 15 hours of instruction plus 30 hours of student work/study out of class.)

"Instruction" is provided differently in online courses than in classroom-based courses. Despite the difference in methodology and activities, however, the total "learning time" online can usually be counted. Rather than try to distinguish between "in-class" and "outside-class" time for students, the faculty member developing and/or teaching the online course should calculate how much time a student doing satisfactory work would take to complete the work of the course, including:

  • reading course presentations/ "lectures"
  • reading other materials
  • participation in online discussions
  • doing research
  • writing papers or other assignments
  • completing all other assignments (e.g. projects)

The total time spent on these tasks should be roughly equal to that spent on comparable tasks in a classroom-based course. Time spent downloading or uploading documents, troubleshooting technical problems, or in chat rooms (unless on course assignments such as group projects) should not be counted.

In determining the time on task for an online course, useful information include

  • the course objectives and expected learning outcomes
  • the list of topics in the course outline or syllabus; the textbooks, additional readings, and related education materials (such as software) required
  • statements in course materials informing students of the time and/or effort they are expected to devote to the course or individual parts of it
  • a listing of the pedagogical tools to be used in the online course, how each will be used, and the expectations for participation (e.g., in an online discussion, how many substantive postings will be required of a student for each week or unit?)

Theoretically, one should be able to measure any course, regardless of delivery method, by the description of content covered. However, this is difficult for anyone other than the course developer or instructor to determine accurately, since the same statement of content (in a course outline or syllabus) can represent many different levels of breadth and depth in the treatment of that content, and require widely varying amounts of time.

Last Updated: October 7, 2013