Enhancing the Seven Practices

How can you improve your teaching? One way is to observe what effective teachers do, and make sure you do more of it. The trick is knowing what effective professors do.

The "seven practices of good teaching," first published in the March 1987 American Association of Higher Education bulletin by Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson, has become the most frequently used yardstick of teaching effectiveness. According to their research, teaching is most effective when the professor:

  1. Encourages contact between students and faculty. Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of class is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement.
  2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students. Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort rather than a solo race.
  3. Encourages active learning. Learning is not a spectator sport. Students must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.
  4. Gives prompt feedback. Knowing what you know and don’t know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses.
  5. Emphasizes time on task. Time plus energy equals learning. There is no substitute for time on task.
  6. Communicates high expectations. Expect more and you will get more.
  7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning. There are many roads to learning. Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them.

As we consider which of the new computer-enabled learning strategies should be part of our own teaching, the list of good teaching practices is a reliable and helpful yardstick.

The seven practices are an important element in both the logical and empirical proofs. From numerous studies that have nothing to do with technology we know that learning increases when there is more interaction and quicker feedback between students and their professors, when students (and siblings) help each other learn, and when students have access to the same material in multiple formats. Furthermore, in computer-enhanced courses when communication between faculty and students is more frequent and timely, more collaboration occurs among students, and students have access to a broader range of materials and people. Finally, it is only logical to conclude that because computers enable more interaction, collaboration, and customization, there is more learning.

Pursuing a more empirical approach, Shouping Hu and George Kuh have used three of the seven principles as proxies for learning. They have related responses to the College Student Experience Questionnaire from 18,844 students at 71 American colleges and universities with the extent of computer availability on each campus (see http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v9n49.html). Student responses from wired campuses (i.e., their campuses were listed by Yahoo as one of the most wired) have been compared with the rest.

Their results show that students at more wired campuses reported more contact with their professors (#1 best practice), more substantive interaction with their peers (#2 best practice), and the same amount of active learning (#3 best practice). More wired students also reported more frequent use of e-mail to communicate with an instructor or classmates, and more frequent searches of the Internet for materials related to their courses.

In the end, the Chickering-Gamson seven practices of good teaching provide both a framework for redesigning courses and a metric for the impact of technology upon learning.

About the Author

David Brown (brown@wfu.edu) is vice president and dean of the International Center for Computer Enhanced Learning at Wake Forest University.

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