7 Principles of Good Practice in Online Teaching

Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson published their Seven Principles in 1987, synthesizing fifty years of research to develop seven principles that they viewed as core to effective teaching:

  1. Good Practice Encourages Student-Faculty Contact
  2. Good Practice Encourages Cooperation among Students
  3. Good Practice Encourages Active Learning
  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

You will undoubtedly recognize these as core to your own face-to-face teaching.  As you beginning to explore online delivery of your courses, a natural question is how do you translate what you currently are doing as you transition your course online?

In reviewing the literature, many suggest that the while the content and the learning outcomes are the same, the manner in which that content is delivered and the interactions with students are quite different.  Ko and Rosen (2008) suggest that developing an online course starts at the same place where you develop a face-to-face course.  You set the goals for the course, describes the specific learning objectives, defines the tasks necessary to meet those objectives, and then creates applicable assignments around these tasks.  The fundamentals are the same, the technique is very different.  So in many ways, the design of an online course mirrors the design of a face-to-face course.  Both have clear learning objectives.  Assessment of learning is critical in both.  Yet the fundamental practices for delivering the instruction and facilitating learner interaction are quite different.

Sorensen and Baylen (2009) adapted Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) widely cited Seven Principles, deciding that the original seven principles were not enough to meet the needs of faculty who were new to teaching in online environments.  Sorensen and Baylen’s final principles, which parallel Chickering and Gamson’s principles, included:

  1. Student-teacher contact, a principle focusing on the interaction between a student and instructor in an online environment;
  2. Cooperation among students, a principle for effective teaching focusing on cooperation among students;
  3. Active learning, a principle emphasizing the importance of students to engage in meaningful learning activities and reflection on the process;
  4. Prompt feedback, a principle focusing on giving guidance and feedback to ensure students are on the right track in terms of meeting course learning objectives;
  5. Time on task, a principle concentrating on giving students assistance and guidance for managing their time in an online environment;
  6. Communicate high expectations, a principle based on the theory that when instructors communicate to their students about high expectations for the course, students will aim to meet these expectations; and
  7. Respect diverse ways of learning, a principle ensuring instructors are developing and implementing a wide variety of instructional strategies to meet the diverse population of students (p. 71).

Tie to this our observation that the web has become social.  Online courses require your social presence in order for the course to be effective.  Several studies have reinforced the importance of the faculty member’s social presence in an online learning environment (Tu, 2000; Richardson and Swan, 2003; Rovai and Barnum, 2003; Palloff and Pratt, 2007).  Social presence supports the notion that students see you (and each other) as “real” people in their online class.

This social presence of students leads to our second difference.  Students need to form a learning community in order for the course to be effective.  While you have traditionally worked to create a learning community in your face-to-face classes, a common mistake in translating educational work online is to see the process as individualistic.  Earlier in this decade, nearly 80 percent of elearning was designed for solo work, which in effect made it little different from correspondence courses (Galvin, 2001).  Research has shown that learning:

“is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one’s own ideas and responding to others’ reactions improves thinking and deepens understanding” (Chickering and Gamson, 1987, p. 1).

Finally, active engaged learning activities are required for the course to be effective.  This is where the Seven Principles come in.

Good teaching online is no different than good teaching face-to-face, in that effective teaching incorporates each of these practices.  Chickering and Ehrmann (1996) expanded on these principles to illustrate that technology can be a lever to implementing these principles.  The Task Force on Quality in Distance Education for the University System of Ohio has also adopted these seven principles as foundational to e-learning (Ohio Learning Network, 2003).

Therefore, to explore how you could translate your face-to-face experience to online teaching, it is helpful to see how other have translated these principles in an online environment (TLT Group, 2004; Graham et al, 2001).  In our white paper, Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning, we outlined a series of vignettes, supporting material and links to online tools meant to articulate how the seven principles can be applied as a means of supporting the transition to online teaching and learning.