Policy on Distance Learning


This policy outlines SUNY Downstate's policy and philosophy as it relates to Distance Learning. At this time, SUNY Downstate currently offers hybrid courses, but offers no course or program completely on-line. This policy will guide any program who wishes to offer courses or programs through distance learning in the future, subject to the approval of the Council of Deans, subject to the requirements (and possible approval) of the SUNY Board of Trustees, The NYS Education Department, and institutional and program-based accreditation agencies.



Distance learning is defined as instruction between a teacher and students when they are separated by physical distance and communication is accomplished by one or more technological media (American Association of University Professors, 2007; Oregon Network for Education, 2000).

Distance learning programs are degree, certificate, and minor programs in which coursework in the program is available to students in technologically-based formats.

Distance learning courses are classes, taught for credit or otherwise, required for a program in which students are separated, in the majority or entirety of the course, by time and/or space from the instructor and/or the campus from which the course originates. Modes of instruction and communication are by technological means, now known or hereafter developed. The policies and procedures outlined here will apply regardless of the format or method of distance learning.

The role of distance learning at the SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University is one that is connected to the mission of the College, and involves providing access to quality educational opportunities that extend beyond traditional offerings. Courses offered during the year should be for cohorts of students who will find it difficult or impossible to attend on campus.

Distance learning courses and programs should not reduce students’ access to on campus programs or faculty. The use of distance learning technology should be to enhance students’ access to campus programs.

Institutional Governance & Policy Review

Any changes to this policy may be recommended to the administration by the Council of Deans. This policy, and any subsequent amendments, will be published and distributed to all concerned at the College (e.g., inclusion in the Faculty Handbook). A comprehensive review of the distance learning policy and process should be conducted on a regular basis by the Council of Deans. An important component of the review process should involve policy planning, which includes anticipation of upcoming needs of students and faculty, as well as consideration of growth and development issues (e.g., how to mediate growth).

Application & Purpose

Distance learning must adhere to existing policies of the State Education Department, Board of Trustees of the State University of New York and SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University as well as conform to any negotiated agreements. The same academic standards for quality and other requirements for traditional courses apply to distance education as well. As an instructional activity, faculty and academic departments maintain primary responsibility for determining the policies and practices of the College with respect to distance learning. It is further affirmed that faculty and academic departments retain the primary role in the development, provision, and control of distance learning courses and programs.

The primary purposes of distance learning options and the development of guidelines in this document are:

  1. Academic quality: Institutional support of distance learning options work towards the particular goal of assuring the extension of educational quality standards to distance learning.
  2. Quality of Campus Life: Although distance learning options involve separation by time and/or space from the instructor and/or campus, such endeavors extend the resources of the College to create a supportive teaching and learning environment on the campus and off, especially in pursuit of the goal of all parties involved have appropriate technological and other resources available to them.

Though the technologies used to deliver distance education may change frequently, these applications, goals and responsibilities remain, and this document will continue to provide general guidance on various issues involved in the offering of distance learning courses.

Accreditation and Program Approval Issues

All programs must comply with appropriate NYS State Education Department Guidelines pertaining to program registration. For example, any programs in which more than 50% of coursework is offered online must seek NYS Education Department approval. 

Directors of accredited programs are expected to ensure that quality assurance requirements of accrediting agencies' standards are met. This includes mission appropriateness, resource commitment, assessment, learning outcomes and matters of course equivalency.

Course Design & Development

The instructional design of the course is the responsibility of the faculty member. In general, faculty should use institutionally supported technologies for developing and delivering distance learning courses. Resources are available on campus for faculty who seek guidance in developing distance learning courses. Faculty who are developing their first distance learning course must contact the Information Services, who will connect the instructor with the appropriate academic technology support personnel. A distance learning course will follow existing prerequisites restrictions and procedures for pre-enrollment and enrollment. Because distance learning media vary in delivery and technical sophistication and because students must assume much greater independent responsibility, special restrictions such as technical skills, equipment, cohort requirements, and other expectations could be required as conditions of enrollment in a course or programs. These requirements should be clearly communicated to prospective students.


Any faculty member teaching a distance learning course must have completed College approved training prior to offering the course. Consult your academic dean for further information

Course Approval & Implementation

All courses to be offered in a DL format must be submitted through the existing College course approval process.

Any existing course in which at least one section will be offered in a DL format requires a course change approval form to be submitted to the academic dean for approval. Any new course in which at least one section will be offered in a DL format requires a New Course Proposal Form, indicating all methods of course delivery.

Academic departments will engage in due diligence to determine resource requirements of a DL course in advance of submitting course approval or course change forms. To ensure sufficient technology hardware, software, and support, the academic dean will communicate the needs of approved DL courses to the campus sources of technical support for DL. The original course approval or course change form should detail these needs.

The offering of distance learning courses will correspond with the Academic Calendar in all respects including beginning and ending dates, final examination schedule, submission deadline for final grades and other existing policies. Exceptions must be approved by the academic dean and communicated by the dean to the College Registrar.

When submitting schedules to the Registrar, departments must clearly indicate which courses will be delivered in a distance learning format.


Distance learning courses are expected to produce the same learning outcomes as comparable classroom-based courses. These learning outcomes are clearly identified in terms of knowledge, skills, or credentials in course and program materials. The means chosen for assessing student learning are appropriate to the content, learning design, technologies and characteristics of the learners.

Teaching Appointments

Teaching distance learning courses will be considered in a manner equivalent to traditional courses in the processes of reappointment, promotion, tenure, and discretionary salary decisions.

Workload & Compensation

It is required that a course be fully developed before being implemented. Based on the exceptional involvement in preparation required for distance learning course development, this may be appropriate justification for a course load reduction, per policy in the Faculty Handbook.

Office Hours/Faculty Presence

A faculty member teaching a distance learning course shall conduct the normally expected total number of office hours. Faculty presence is an integral component of quality instruction, as well as a leading indicator of student satisfaction. Faculty will make clear to students the days or times that students can expect that the instructor will be active or present in the course.

Intellectual Property & Copyright

Regarding intellectual property and copyright for distance learning course materials, the definitions, guidelines, and policies of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York shall be followed.

SUNY Downstate policies applicable to faculty-authored materials in traditional classroom instruction should apply equally to distance learning formats. These policies include:

  1. Faculty ownership of scholarly/aesthetic works, including lecture, course handouts and syllabi and
  2. Faculty control of methods of presentation and selection of course materials.

Faculty members are cautioned to comply with all copyright regulations in developing materials to be published in any distance learning format or delivery mode.

Distance learning courses will be archived in electronic format for at least one year following their completion. Faculty can request access to these archived formats (for courses for which the faculty member is the instructor of record) at anytime through Educational Computing.

SED, SUNY and SUNY Downstate policies governing record keeping and access to the archives of courses apply to the digital archives of courses.

Faculty members should be involved in the oversight of distance education courses to the same extent as in other courses with regard to factors such as course development and approval, selection of qualified faculty to teach, pedagogical recommendation about appropriate class size, and oversight of final course offerings by the appropriate faculty, department, and dean to ensure conformity with previously established procedures and policies of course quality and relevance to programs.

Protection of Course Materials

Course materials for DL courses are subject to the State Education Department, SUNY, and SUNY Downstate's record keeping and review policies. SUNY Downstate will not use instructors’ distance learning materials for subsequent or derivative uses.

Course Completion

Existing SUNY Downstate policies concerning deadlines for course completion, submitting grades, and incompletes shall apply to distance learning courses unless explicitly outlined otherwise in the published academic calendar.


DL courses will be evaluated using the same evaluation tools used for traditional course delivery, but will also include questions that are appropriate to the delivery modality.

Student Issues & Services

Services for students taking distance learning courses will be provided according to the policies and procedures of the offices and facilities providing those services. These services include, but are not limited to, academic advisement, bookstore, disability services, enrollment/registration, financial aid, library, technical help, and tutoring, to the same level as provided to students taking traditional courses. Faculty are required to apprise students of available services. It is expected that personnel in these services will make appropriate and reasonable efforts, within the limits of available staff and resources, to accommodate distance learning students as is done for students taking classes on campus.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to comply with all SUNY Downstate academic policies, including the policy on Academic Integrity. Faculty are encouraged to familiarize their students with the policy and the concept of academic integrity.


It is important to ensure that students understand how course interfaces work so that the technology does not present students with unnecessary barriers to learning. Therefore, programs and instructors teaching distance learning courses should provide their students with an orientation, either in person or through the distance learning format, to the particular interface being used.

Transfer Credit

For current students, credits from distance learning courses transferring into a SUNY Downstate degree program are subject to the same requirements for transfer credits as courses taken using any other learning modality. In some cases, where lab work is required for a pre-requisite, there may be restrictions on the type of lab experience that will be permitted. Such requirements shall be outlined in the admission requirements for that program.

Institutional Support for Technology

It is important that the institution demonstrates a commitment to ongoing technical support for both faculty and students. It is expected that the institution work to maintain technical and service reliability, to keep pace with technological and pedagogical advancements, to provide timely notification of such changes, and continue to provide various means of support as technology and learning modes change.

Technical Support

SUNY Downstate is responsible for the technological delivery of distance learning courses offered by our programs. This support is considered part of the usual and customary equipment and resources available to support all faculty teaching. This includes ensuring, as part of the course change or new course approval process before the course is listed to be offered, that:

  • Distance learning courses should not drain campus resources and not deter students from coming to campus.
  • Basic and necessary technology and equipment are identified and in place to develop and teach distance learning courses, from instructor’s assigned workspace.
  • Resources for distance learning represent the current state-of-the-art technology available, contingent upon available funding.
  • SUNY Downstate provides appropriate and timely training and technical support for faculty members.
  • Continued technical and curricular training courses for potential users will be available as new technologies become available.
  • SUNY Downstate will provide appropriate forms of assistance and support personnel to faculty members to develop distance learning courses.

Approved by the Council of Deans. Last Modified: March 2016