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Guidelines for Course Instructional Mode Selection

[Effective January 2023 for Mode Selection Beginning Fall 2023]

Course instructional mode decisions are made jointly by the instructor and the academic unit head (or their designee) in the context of the balance of course offerings across the unit. Available modes are posted by the University Registrar.

Instructors cannot unilaterally determine or change course instructional mode and each academic unit must establish a process for consultation on, and final academic unit level approval of, course mode selection.  In jointly making the decision on course instructional mode, instructors and academic units must consider the following:

  • Alignment of course learning objectives with instructional mode:  The optimal match between course learning objectives and effective pedagogy should be the primary driver of the choice of instructional mode.  Regardless of the mode selected, the instructor must be able to meet all the course learning objectives in the chosen instructional mode.
  • Maintenance of regular and substantive interaction: The course and syllabus must demonstrate regular and substantive interaction to ensure high quality as well as to meet Middle States Commission on Higher Education's (MSCHE) accreditation standards for Distance Education, where required. RS, RA, RB, VC/VR and H5 and H7 modes fall under the federal definition of Distance Education as courses that “deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and support regular and substantive interaction between students and the instructor either synchronously or asynchronously” (34 Code of Federal Regulations § 600.2).
  • Balance of course offerings across the unit: The academic unit head has ultimate responsibility for assuring that the unit offers the appropriate balance of courses in different instructional modes and at different times of the day and week. In doing so, the following factors should be considered:
    • Pedagogical needs of the department, the academic program, and of the course
    • Accreditation and reporting requirements.  These include any specific to the degree program as well as University-wide requirements. Federal regulations require the institution to notify the Middle States Commission on Higher Education of any change to an existing program’s method of delivery from a traditional, face-to-face delivery method to distance education. Thus, changes in course mode can have an impact on institutional accreditation reporting. In addition, regardless of the mode of delivery of courses or programs, students must have access to the same experience and support services. Course mode changes could increase the potential for students to be disconnected from such services.
    • Expectations of students enrolled at residential colleges and campuses
    • Needs of international students. F-1 and J-1 students may count only one 3-credit course in distance education or on-line course towards their full-time enrollment requirement each semester (12 credits for undergraduates; 9 credits for graduate students). More information can be found at
    • Needs of veterans and military personnel (tuition benefits may vary for some programs).  More information can be found by contacting
    • Adequacy of course design and instructor preparation: Instructors planning to use a new instructional mode should have sufficient time to access instructional design resources that ensure the proposed course design supports learning objectives and pedagogy.  In addition, instructors are expected to have engaged in professional development activities to support their efforts in novel instructional modes.   These activities can include formal courses through PSU or external entities, workshops from the same, and/or small group or 1:1 consultation with HHD Outreach.
    • Availability of technology and learning support resources appropriate to the mode selected:  Syllabi for courses should include a statement on the supports available.

Helpful questions to ask when considering course mode selection 

Bearing the above in mind, it may be helpful for instructors and academic unit heads (or their designees) to consider the following questions as they discuss plans for course instructional modes:

  • Which instructional mode(s) are aligned with the course learning objectives?
  • Which instructional mode(s) has the course initially been designed for?
  • How does any switch in mode impact the effectiveness of pedagogy in achieving learning outcomes?
  • If offered in RS, RA, RB, VC/VR and H5 and H7 modes, how will be course meet the expectations of regular and substantive interaction with the instructor?
  • Which instructional modes has the instructor been prepared to offer through professional development in teaching and learning?
  • Is the academic unit offering an appropriate balance of courses that meet the expectations of students in residential instruction, allows all students to make satisfactory progress towards their degree, takes into account the needs of international students, who can only take one course in RS, RA, RB, VC/VR, H5 or H7 mode, and other student considerations, such as impacts on financial aid, flexibility in scheduling, etc.
  • Will changing the course mode affect department efforts to meet the learning needs of students who are taking the course via the DLC?

Expectations around communication on course mode to students

In addition to the course mode designation in published in semester course schedules, instructors are also expected to communicate details regarding individual course meeting plans, including plans regarding class mode switches during campus closure, to students at the start of the semester. When instructors intend to use the flexibility available to them within an instructional mode (including within In-person as well as within Hybrid, Remote Synchronous and Remote Blended) they should provide a clear plan or schedule to students in the syllabus or in writing at the start of the class, showing when the class will meet in-person, remote synchronous or remote asynchronous.

Instructors should also be aware of their responsibilities regarding class modes during campus closure. Instructors may constrain their ability to respond to a campus closure with a mode switch, if they have designed their course to the maximum limits of the flexibility within modes. For example, if an instructor has planned their in-person course with 24.99 percent of meetings in remote asynchronous mode, they may not be able to switch their class to an alternative mode during a campus closure.

Evaluation of course mode

Instructors and academic unit heads (or their designees) are expected to regularly evaluate the appropriateness and effectiveness of course mode choice, as they would any other aspect of course delivery.   Student feedback, peer review, and other information may be drawn upon as needed. 

In addition, the College will monitor the distribution of course mode across academic programs and units.  After semester course schedules are submitted and prior to the start of course enrollment for each semester, the College will provide a summary of academic unit, academic program, and college-wide instructional modes. The appropriate associate dean may request a consultation with the academic administrator and instructors regarding the overall balance of course offerings based on this summary.