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Principles of Best Practices Guidelines
Draft as of Nov 7, 2001

Chickering and Gamson (1987) identified the Seven Standards of Good Practice for Undergraduate Education, which have been widely accepted as measures for judging the effectiveness of classroom teaching. The following list defines each principle and outlines ways in which the principles can be incorporated into distance learning courses.

NOTE: It is not expected that any course will incorporate every possible activity, but the Review Team will look for evidence that the instructor has included significant elements from each category.

Principle 1: The instructor encourages student-faculty contact and interaction.

Frequent student-faculty contact is the most important factor in student motivation, intellectual commitment, and personal development. Feedback from faculty is a critical factor in online student success and satisfaction.

The following types of activities show that the instructor maintains contact with students. The instructor

Offers multiple forms of contact, including emails, phone calls, FAX, face to face, online chats.
Establishes virtual office hours: times when the students know you are available for online chats, phone calls, or email.
Acknowledges initial receipt of studentsí email with an automatic email reply.
Differentiates types of inquiries and instructor response time (receipt of message, personal question, content question, procedural question, assignment feedback).
Informs students that infrastructure problems (server, etc.) are beyond the control of the instructor and may impact response time.
Creates course assignments that build in feedback and communication (see Principle 3).
Creates an online community
     Makes an effort to find out basic information about students.
     Makes an effort to introduce students to each other.
     Refers to students by name.
Conveys enthusiasm for the subject.
Lets students "sit in" in classroom or work one-on-one with them as appropriate.

Comments:

Principle 2: The instructor encourages student cooperation.

Cooperative learning that is characterized by positive interdependence, face-to-face interaction, personal responsibility, collaborative skills, and group processing enhances learning.

The following types of activities show that the instructor encourages student cooperation. The instructor

Creates assignments that require students to respond to peersí work/assignments.
Uses techniques for fostering student cooperation:
     Peer reviews
     Chats
     Bulletin boards
     Discussion forums
     Group projects
     Student groups
     Team learning
Encourages links between students:
     Interview and introduce one another
     Form study teams
     Asks students to complete a personality questionnaire for the formation of compatible
       and effective learning/study/workgroups
       (http://polaris.umuc.edu/~rouellet/learning)
     If appropriate to the subject, asks students to grade their peersí papers following the
       grading scheme in the syllabus. Students should, in addition, justify the grades they
       assign.

Comments:

Principle 3: The instructor encourages active learning.

To maximize learning, students must interact with the material they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and incorporate what they are learning into their worldview.

The following types of activities show that the instructor encourages active learning. The instructor

Encourages student questions, input, and feedback; clearly states that all points of view are welcome and respected.
Becomes involved in class discussions.
Regularly sends announcements and general messages to the whole class.
Follows up on students who are not participating.
Asks students to state what they expect to learn in the class.
Asks students to provide and critique URLS that relate to the class and enhance learning.
Asks students to teach their classmates.
Asks student to develop/create learning activities and projects.
Asks students to critique other studentsí work.
Asks students to reflect on their performance, their progress, their problems, and their process. What have you learned (in your own words)? Why is this new knowledge important?
Poses discussion questions that that foster critical thinking, problem solving, and extended and wide-ranging dialog.
Uses quizzes/questions that require students to review the content (self-check or automatically graded online).
Follows up reading assignments with discussions, simulations, or applications to case studies/scenarious.
Selects real-world, relevant, and practical assignments that allow students to apply and practice the concepts learned.
Offers frequent short assignments/quizzes or other frequent "in progress" feedback opportunities.
Establishes replies and responses as important values of online discussions through tone, modeling and grade weighting.

Comments:

Principle 4: The instructor gives prompt feedback.

The instructor role is key, as it gives the students help in assessing their knowledge and competence.

The following types of activities show that the instructor gives prompt feedback.

The instructor

Responds with frequent email or discussion board comments: with answers to questions, comments about lesson/unit content, giving directions and information.
Returns tests, papers, assignments, etc. within 7-10 days.
Holds virtual office hours for students to discuss their graded work.
Posts or sends grades regularly.
Acknowledges all student questions.
Uses quizzes/questions that require students to review the content (self-check or automatically graded online).
Differentiates types of inquiries and his/her response time (receipt of message, personal questions, content questions, procedural questions, and assignment feedback).
Uses grading rubrics to clearly and consistently evaluate student work.
Posts outstanding student work and explains what makes it good.
Provides models of assignments (e.g., a model student essay or journal entry) to demonstrate expectations.
Follows up on feedback vial email or phone if students do not respond initially to feedback.

Comments:

Principle 5: The instructor emphasizes time on task.

Learning takes place when time is used effectively and actively.

The following types of activities show that the instructor emphasizes time on task.

The instructor

Clearly defines and explains course goals, performance objectives, grading and evaluation criteria, and grading rubrics.
Indicates the relative emphasis on facts, critical thinking, analysis, reasoning, etc.
Establishes and enforces deadlines for assignments.
Lets students how how much time it will take to do the assignments.
Outlines the steps in completing each of the assignments. Breaks the assignment into smaller, more manageable parts if appropriate.
Uses quizzes/questions that require students to review the content (self-check or automatically graded online)
Builds in a reward system of points for all student work.

Comments:

Principle 6: The instructor communicates high expectations.

When the instructor sets high but attainable goals, academic achievement increases.

The following types of activities show that the instructor communicates high expectations.

The instructor

The course description is posted on the public pages and on the course Blackboard site. It clearly defines and explains course goals, performance objectives, grading and evaluation criteria, grading rubrics, and indicates the relative emphasis on facts, critical thinking, analysis, reasoning, etc. It also indicates if the course is self-paced or not and if any on-campus meetings or tests are required.
Course activities address the same objectives as on-campus course activities.
Course requirements/assignments/activities are equivalent in difficulty and depth to those in the on-campus sections of the course.
Students are evaluated with the same emphasis and level of difficulty as the on-campus sections.
Instructors set high standards for themselves and model through example.

Comment:

Principle 7: The instructor respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

Helping a student recognize his own learning style can improve a studentís learning. Recognizing the learning styles of others can increase a studentís repertoire of learning strategies.

The following types of activities show that the instructor respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

The instructor

Asks students to complete a learning style assessment questionnaire at the beginning of the semester.
Designs more than one method of assessment and demonstration of student achievement. Allows students to choose from different possible modes of project presentation, established up front in an agreement between instructor and student.
Encourages students to use the Web and other resources and media to master course content by incorporating Web-based assignments into the curriculum and reading assignments.
Recognizes that distance education and online classes are the preferred or best learning environment for some students. Refers students to the "Is Distance Learning Right For You? Page at http://www.pgcconline.org.
Is sensitive to possible cultural differences, especially communicating with students for whom English is a second language.
Usea Bobby (http://www.cast.org/bobby/) - a free, online service that identifies and repairs significant barriers to access by individuals with disabilities.
If possible, provides alternatives to reading text, such as audio explanations of complicated materials.

Comments:

Note: These "Principles of Best Practice" evolved from several sources, including Chickering and Gamsonís Seven Standards of Good Practice for Undergraduate Education (1987) and the "Standards of Best Practice" compiled by Dr. Mary Helen Spear (PGCC) and Dr. Christina Sax (UMUC). This document is largely modeled on the "Principles of Best Practice in the Design and Delivery of Online Education at Howard Community College" and is used with permission of Virginia Kirk, Director of Distance Education, Howard Community College.