Office of the University Registrar

Course Modes

In 2021, student leadership requested more clarity in the time schedule about when and where a course would be delivered.

In response, the Tri-Campus Digital Learning Alliance developed new definitions for in-person, hybrid, synchronous, and asynchronous online courses. All three UW campuses piloted and adopted the definitions. They are now integrated with the MyPlan academic planning tool and MyUW.

Course Mode Decision Tree

The following decision tree is designed to help instructors and time schedule coordinators determine how to code a given course. Any course not indicated will default to in-person.

A flowchart diagram describes the decision process for a faculty member selecting the appropriate course mode for their class based on the definitions.

Course Modality Decision Tree

Course Mode Definitions

All course modes adhere to the dates of instruction listed in the academic calendar. Students are expected to participate in classes during the first week of the quarter and finish all coursework by the end of the quarter, regardless of course mode.

All required class meetings occur in a physical classroom. The course may also have online content and activities that students engage in outside of class time as homework or study materials. The time schedule contains information about the course’s required weekly physical classroom meeting time.
Students and instructors regularly interact in both the physical classroom and online. When not meeting in the physical classroom, students and instructors interact online, either through required synchronous sessions or required asynchronous activities. The time schedule contains information about the course’s required weekly physical classroom and synchronous meeting times (e.g., MW 1-2pm in-person, F 1-2pm on Zoom).
Synchronous Online
Students and instructors interact online synchronously through regularly-scheduled, required meetings using applications such as Zoom. Students should also expect to interact with others and engage in course materials asynchronously. The time schedule contains information about the course’s regular, required synchronous meeting time.
Asynchronous Online
Students and instructors always interact with others and engage course materials asynchronously. While there are no regularly-scheduled, required synchronous class meetings, students are expected to meet all assignment deadlines and may be asked to schedule occasional, brief synchronous one-on-one check-in meetings with the instructors.

Understanding the “regular and substantive interaction” requirement in online courses

The US Department of Education expects online courses to include scheduled and predictable opportunities for learners to interact with the instructor and other students. Broadly speaking, “regular and substantive interaction” is interaction that:

  • Is initiated by the instructor
  • Pertains to the subject of the course
  • Occurs frequently and consistently throughout the term

To meet the federal threshold of “substantive,” online instructors must engage in at least two of the following five forms of interaction:

  • Assessing or providing feedback on a student’s coursework
  • Providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course or competency
  • Facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency
  • Providing direct instruction
  • Other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency

The Center for Teaching & Learning provides recommendations for fostering regular and substantive interaction in online courses

Updates that Appear in the Time Schedule

Updates you will see to the online Time Schedule will better align codes with current practice and will involve a few changes, listed below.

Updated Letter Codes in the ‘Other’ Column

  • A – Asynchronous Online courses will now be flagged as ‘A’
  • O –Synchronous Online courses will now be flagged as ‘O’
  • B – Hybrid courses will still be flagged as ‘B’

The ‘D’ flag for distance learning no longer appears

Policies and practices around distance learning (e.g., curricular approval, definition of distance learning, etc.) remain the same, but now ‘A’ and ‘O’ will appear instead of ‘D’ in the online Time Schedule to avoid redundancy. UWT courses must select either ‘A’ or ‘O’ to accurately reflect course mode. UWB and UWS are invited to use the new codes or simply select ‘O’ for all online courses of either type.

Updated help window and automatic system comments

  • The help window for the ‘Other’ column in the online Time Schedule has been updated with the new terms. Please note that for the Autumn pilot, ‘O’ will be reserved for synchronous online courses on the UWT campus but will be the default code for all online courses on the UWB and UWS campuses.
  • The automatic system comments that you see when you click on an SLN have been updated to ‘Hybrid’, ‘Synchronous Online Learning’, and ‘Asynchronous Online Learning.’

Frequently Asked Questions

Who developed these definitions?

At the request of UW leadership, and in response to student and instructor need, the Tri-Campus Digital Learning Alliance developed and vetted the definitions, incorporating feedback from the following groups:

  1. UW Tacoma Academic Policy and Curriculum Committee
  2. Faculty Council on Teaching & Learning
  3. Faculty Council on Student Affairs
  4. Faculty Council on Academic Standards
  5. Advisory Council on Technology-enhanced Teaching
  6. UW Bothell Campus Council on Academic Standards
  7. Associate Deans focus group
  8. Administrative staff that support pedagogy and instructional technology on UW’s three campuses
  9. Registrars from UW’s three campuses
  10. Student focus group
  11. Advisors

Were faculty consulted?

Yes. Over 120 faculty were consulted in the development of the definitions, including the chair of the Faculty Senate, members of three Faculty Councils, and faculty groups on the Bothell and Tacoma campuses.

Are faculty required to participate in the pilot?

UWT courses with a DL designation have always been required to indicate course mode in the time schedule. DL courses will therefore need to participate in the pilot of the new course mode definitions. Current plans are for UWS and UWB faculty to be invited, but not required, to participate in Spring 2023.

I teach in person but have a conference coming up. If I ask my class to meet online that week, does that make it a hybrid course?

No. Hybrid courses are those that regularly meet in person for some class sessions and online for others. Occasional adjustments to schedules to accommodate travel, medical procedures or other planned events can be indicated in the syllabus.

The course I teach does not fit exactly into these four course modes. What should I do?

Use the decision tree to select the course mode that best fits where and when your course is held. Add additional specifics or nuance to the Notes section of the time schedule.

Courses that don’t meet at a specific time or location, such as independent study, can remain uncategorized without a course mode code in the time schedule.

Do my hybrid course sessions in Zoom have to align to with my in-person scheduled course times?

Yes. Required synchronous online class sessions fall within the same timeframe as the course’s in-person meeting time. For example, if your course meets MWF 1-2pm, any required synchronous online sessions would meet within the 1-2pm window on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. The time schedule would include information about when and where the class is meeting (e.g., MW 1-2pm in-person, F 1-2pm on Zoom).

If your hybrid course meets asynchronously, the online portion of the course is driven by assignment deadlines and only the in-person required meeting times are listed in the time schedule.

Will this be communicated to students?

There will be no formal communication with students in the pilot phase. Students will see the new course mode information and definitions in the time schedule for sections participating in the pilot. Student user groups shared feedback during development that the definitions were intuitive and easy to understand.

Will these course modes appear in MyPlan?

Integration with MyPlan is not in scope for the pilot, but plans are in place for MyPlan integration at a later date so students can better filter for course modes that work best for their schedules.

Are international students eligible to take online or hybrid courses?

Standard U.S. immigration regulations allow international students on F-1 and J-1 visas to take hybrid courses that have in-person course meeting requirements. Students on F-1 visas may take a maximum of one (1) course per quarter that is fully online with no in-person requirements, whether synchronous or asynchronous. J-1 visa holders are not eligible to take fully online courses. More detailed information is available from International Student Services for F-1 full time enrollment or J-1 full time enrollment requirements.

Are online courses eligible for financial aid?

Yes. Eligibility depends on course start and end dates, not course mode. To be eligible for financial aid in courses of any modality, students must

  • participate in classes during the first week of the quarter
  • finish all coursework by the end of the quarter

While this is true for all courses, faculty and students new to asynchronous online courses should be aware that this means meaningful participation – such as a post, activity, or assignment – should take place in the first week of the course.

The Office of the University Registrar will contact instructors to confirm first week engagement. If the office is unable to confirm, students enrolled in the course will be asked to contact the Office of Student Financial Aid to discuss impacts.

Will taking online courses impact veterans benefits?

Possibly. To receive full benefits, veterans may only take one online course per quarter. Students using VA education benefits should contact the veterans office on their UW campus with any questions.

What if I have feedback about these definitions?

As a pilot, ongoing feedback on the course mode definitions and implementation as well as other suggestions are most welcome. Submit your feedback.


Ongoing feedback on the course mode definitions and implementation as well as other suggestions are most welcome. Submit your feedback – DLA contact form.