Seven Principles of Good Practice – Applied to Online Education

Chickering and Gamson (1987) formulated seven principles of good practice in education as a means of creating a foundation for active learning. I bet you noticed that "1987" and thought, "that's an old reference." Well, rest assured that these seven principles have since stayed relevant and even have been revisited. They were originally published in the AAHE Bulletin (Chickering & Gamson,  1987) and are a popular framework for evaluating teaching in traditional, face-to-face courses. Additionally, these seven principles are based on 50 years of higher education research (Chickering & Reisser, 1993). A faculty inventory (Johnson Foundation, "Faculty," 1989) and an institutional inventory (Johnson Foundation, "Institutional," 1989) based on these principles have helped faculty members and higher-education institutions examine and improve their teaching practices. The Seven Principles are:
  1. Good practice encourages contact between students and faculty.
  2. Good practice develops reciprocity and cooperation among students.
  3. Good practice uses active learning techniques.
  4. Good practice gives prompt feedback.
  5. Good practice emphasizes time on task.
  6. Good practice communicates high expectations.
  7. Good practice respects diverse talents and ways of learning.
According to Phillips (2005) these seven principles give educators a good framework for learner-centered teaching and learning guidelines, not only in a face to face classroom but in the online environment as well. Graham, C., Cagiltay, K., Craner, J., Lim, B., & Duffy, T. M. (2001), a team that identifies themselves as five evaluators from Indiana University's Center for Research on Learning and Technology (CRLT), utilize these principles as a means of examining a group of four online courses in what they identify as "a large Midwestern university." In order to maintain the identity of the unversity confidential, its exact location is not identified. Graham et al. (2001) state that these courses were taught by faculty who also taught in on ground classes. The evaluation was based on analyses of the online, or asynchronous course content, student and instructor forum postings and interviews with the faculty. These researchers began to identify examples of the seven principles to create a list of what is referred to as "lessons learned" for online teaching. The list is synthesized below and my comments, based on my own experiences and what that the researchers argue, are italicized: Principle 1: Good Practice Encourages Student-Faculty Contact Lesson for online instruction: Instructors should provide clear guidelines for interaction with students. Syllabi, contact information, class meeting times, assignment deadlines, rubrics, and expectations should be clear.  Also, students should know how to get support when they need it. Should they run into technical problems, they need to know that the instructor is not the first point of contact. For example, if there is a 1-800 number or contact...make sure they know that.  Principle 2: Good Practice Encourages Cooperation Among Students Lesson for online instruction: Well-designed discussion assignments facilitate meaningful cooperation among students. This one really resonated with me. I have a professor this year that gathers all of our asynchronous discussion posts into his slides for our weekly live sessions and strives to make meaning out of what we talk about online. I love it...and so do the other students. One, I feel like I'm not wasting my time writing paragraphs in response to what I assume are meant to be "engaging" questions because I know he actually reads them and will run our discussion around them. Two, it shows he's really invested in our learning.  Also, grade these suckers. If a grade is not dependent on the amount of time/effort that is spent on async forums then chances are that some students are going to not put as much oomph as you might want into their responses.  Principle 3: Good Practice Encourages Active Learning Lesson for online instruction: Students should present course projects. Love this one too. Even in the online world, presenting course projects is getting easier and easier. What's that? You want your students to present as a group? You got it. Most, if not all by now, web conferencing software provide a means of sharing screens, conducting discussions and breakouts etc. Also, things like VoiceThread make it fun for students to add video and voiceovers to their group projects. I did this with a few classmates one year and it was great! I even shot my portion of my video with the New York skyline in the background since I was traveling to work #nogreenscreenhere.  Principle 4: Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback Lesson for online instruction: Instructors need to provide two types of feedback: information feedback and acknowledgment feedback. Responses to students help them to feel acknowledged and that you are actually looking at their work. Graham et al. (2001) state that there are two kinds: informative and acknowledgment feedback. They are pretty self-explanatory....informative=giving a student more info on their topic, assignment grade etc. and acknowledgment is really just a, "hey...I see you." The latter is more effective when it's done 1:1 but since professors get so busy, simple wall posts in an LMS are also great.  Principle 5: Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task Lesson for online instruction: Online courses need deadlines. Don't let people dilly-dally. No deadlines=procrastination. Yes, it's true that we have full-time jobs and responsibilities, so if someone needs some movement in deadlines, that's probably fine. But, letting an entire class float around is not optimal.  Principle 6: Good Practice Communicates High Expectations Lesson for online instruction: Challenging tasks, sample cases, and praise for quality work communicate high expectations. Graham et al. (2001) give a couple of examples that I really like and those are: (1) the use of case-based learning and (2) the use of models for assignments. The latter has personally been so useful for me as a student. Whenever a professor can provide me with a sample paper and tell me why it's, "oh so great," a little light switch turns on and I feel better about completing my assignment.  The former was actually really presented as an example of using challenging assignments to set high expectations. So, it doesn't necessarily have to be "case-based," but I like the implication of setting learning in real-life settings #authenticlearning.  Graham et al. (2001) also call out the use of public praising when great work is done in class. Did that quiet student in the course submit a freaking awesome paper on why virtual reality is going to take over the education space? Give them cred!  Principle 7: Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning Lesson for online instruction: Allowing students to choose project topics incorporates diverse views into online courses. I like this one too. In my program, there are school principals, consultants from top firms, VPs from fortune 500 companies etc. etc. That is, we have varied backgrounds! I'm sure this is the case in several other programs out there, so giving students some freedom really opens the door for some real learning to happen.  What do you think? How do you apply these guidelines, if at all, in your instruction (either online or on the ground)?

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