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Educational Principles

This section is divided into five instructional strategies listed below. Where appropriate, a connection to the Chickering and Gamson's (CG) Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education will be provided.

Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

What is good practice in higher education? Chickering and Gamson (1987) offered seven principles based on research on good teaching and learning in colleges and universities. Intended as guidelines for faculty, students, administrators and others to improve teaching and learning, the practices are listed below.

Good practice in undergraduate education:

  1. encourages contact between students and faculty,
  2. develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
  3. encourages active learning,
  4. gives prompt feedback,
  5. emphasizes time on task,
  6. communicates high expectations, and
  7. respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

Content Delivery

One of the most obvious ways of using web technologies in education is to distribute content to your learners. Since most content is now available in a digital format, it is fairly easy to make it available to your students.

Have a look at the model for content authoring with examples from UD instructors. It will guide you in how to decide which tools or which method to use to publish your site content.

Faculty Story

Keys to successful content delivery

  • Organize and sequence your content in a way that is relevant to your students.
  • Tell your students where your content is or will be posted.
  • Use different media when relevant. Well chosen graphics, animation, video or audio can greatly enhance comprehension.
  • Tell stories to generate interest.
  • If possible, make your content interactive.

TIPS (Teaching Ideas/Practices/Suggestions)

Use web content to free up some in-class time for other activities:

  • Assigning content in advance of a face to face meeting will help you use that precious time for hands-on activities, discussion, project planning, providing feedback, etc. (CG1, CG4) This will help you complete the learning cycle described by Horton (2006): Absorb › Do › Connect.
  • Do not try to deliver everything in your learning object. Let students complete their knowledge themselves with learning activities (CG3).

Prompt and guide your students:

  • Before telling your student to explore a resource, make sure they know what is expected of them. Are they required to remember all of it in details, to get a sense of what the subject is, to focus on a particular topic?
  • You can also give your students some questions that should be answered, or graphic organizers to be filled while viewing or reading the content. (CG6)

Your slides are not handouts:

  • The slides you use in class are supposed to support your presentation, not replace it. If you want to give your students a handout with lots of text, you might be better off giving them a Word document or pdf, with a reprint of your key diagrams and figures.
  • Slide notes or narration can also be used to flesh out the message underlying your slides.

Select media based on effectiveness, not convenience:

  • According to Mayer (2001), the most efficient use of multimedia for learning is spoken words with pictures, since it uses efficiently both the visual and auditory channels of the human brain. The extra effort required to obtain multimedia is most worthwhile when the target concept is both complex and new to learners.

Organize your content in a meaningful way:

  • This is mostly a web usability issue. You have to make sure that your content is available where students would think it is available. Content may be organized by week, by topic, by type of resource, etc. It may also be linked from a variety of sources like forum posts, a file repository, web pages, a wiki site, etc. Doing so will emphasize time on task since your students will not lose any time searching for content you have made available to them (CG5).

Keep your content short:

  • This is especially true with multimedia. User attention tends to phase out dramatically after five to ten minutes of presentation. Instead of sharing hour-long learning objects to your students, try to “chunk” them up into a sequence of smaller and more focused ones. Alternating different types of activities may also keep your learners attention to a maximum and help them assimilate the content better.


One of the 12 attributes of Quality Undergraduate Education as reported by the Education Commission of States, 1995, 1996 is "assessment and prompt feedback". This is consistent with the Chickering and Gamson’s fourth principle (CG4).

Assessment can be of two natures: formative or summative. The goal of summative assessment is to provide some measure of student performance.  This type of assessment holds students accountable for what they have learned and instructors and programs for what they have taught (Hagstrom, 2006). Formative assessment is integrated within instruction. Its goal is to provide feedback to a student in such a way that the student has an understanding of how they are doing in their course.  Can they find meaning in what they have learned? Do they know how to apply it (Hagstrom, 2006)? This kind of assessment is developmental and can be done by the instructor, by the student through self-assessment, or through peer interaction (CG2).  

Key Questions

  • How do you know what your students are learning?
  • What tools can you use to measure student learning?
  • Are you testing what you are teaching?

TIPS (Teaching Ideas/Practices/Suggestions)

  • Use formative assessment to engage learners, decrease student insecurity and increase motivation (CATS, clickers)
  • Set expectations early and often (CG6)
  • Build on prior knowledge/experience
  • Start small
  • Use and share rubrics
  • Give frequent, prompt feedback (CG4)
  • Allow resubmission (CG3,4,6)
  • Praise in public, reprimand in private (CG6)
  • Encourage metacognitive activities, reflection

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There are two types of communication: asynchronous and synchronous.

  • Asynchronous means communicating anytime, from anyplace you can connect to the Web. (e.g. email, discussions, wiki, blog, podcasting)
  • Synchronous means communicating at the same time or in real time. (chat, instant messenger, face-to-face)

Think about your preferences when communicating with your students. Will the methods you currently use satisfy the needs of your students?

Electronic communication tools available in learning management systems are designed to help you communicate with your students and encourage your students to communicate with each other. Tools such as e-mail, chat, and discussions promote increased communication in your course and can enhance the quality of your teaching. These same tools allow for timely feedback from the instructor or class peers. They can lead to an increased social presence among the students and instructor.

Keys to successful communication:

  • avoid using multiple tools for the same purpose, as this can lead to both fragmentation and duplication.
    • provide ONE format for two-way communication (e-mail, forum, wiki)
    • provide ONE format for one-way communication (announcement, schedule, e-mail)
  • make sure students know how and when to use the communication tools you have selected
  • keep the communications organized
  • be clear on expectations, netiquette, protocols
  • give clear directions; how to make quality postings, how to be effective online
  • help students see how this connects to their learning
  • if you know you are going to be unavailable, let your students know
  • give prompt helpful feedback
  • make sure you take the necessary steps to keep communications private if necessary

TIPS (Teaching Ideas/Practices/Suggestions)

Encourage contact between students and faculty: (CG1)

  • Set up an area specifically for answering students' questions. Encourage students to post their questions and answer each others questions if possible. This will enable all students to receive the benefit of the answers and avoid separate e-mails to several students.
  • Consider having some online office hours. Set up a specific time to meet in a chat room.

Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students: (CG2)

  • Allow students to explain concepts to each other.
  • Remember that student-student communication sometimes include incorrect information and misconceptions. Use other course activities in support of convergent thinking, instructor directed inquiry, and scientific thinking (Swan, 2004).
  • Break up large classes into smaller online discussion sections so there's a cohort who knows each other.
  • Break students into impromptu groups or pairs to solve more complex problems in class.
  • Have students comment on each others blog entries or forum postings. Blogs or a Wiki can serve as a tool for reflection, knowledge building, and sharing.

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Current learning management systems and web 2.0 technologies make collaborating online a reality. Collaboration helps students co-create knowledge and meaning, reflect, develop critical thinking skills, and generates motivation and a sense of community (Palloff & Pratt, 2005, Davis, 1993) (CG2,7).
Collaboration can be done in multiple ways, using multiple tools and techniques, but the bottom line is that collaboration is a very efficient way of learning in a connected online environment.

Faculty Story

Keys to successful collaboration

  • Set clear expectations and discuss processes with students prior to the activity. (CG6)
  • Create group tasks that require interdependence. (CG2)
  • Carefully explain to your class how the groups will operate and how students will be graded.
  • Make group work relevant.
  • Read more about Group Work and Study Teams.

TIPS (Teaching Ideas/Practices/Suggestions)

When using forums, make sure you don’t create a race to post first. If your questions are too narrow or too focused on knowledge only, the first students to post an answer will cover everything, leaving little space for later students. Some tips to avoid this scenario:

  • Don’t require everybody to contribute to every topic.
  • Assign roles (contributor, moderator, summarizer, etc.).
  • Build on your participants’ experience by prompting them on specific questions.
  • Post topics that must be debated, where people must take position and argument.
  • Moderate, don’t answer everything. Allow time for student answers to emerge.
  • Decide in advance how you will deal with incorrect or misleading information that appears in forums. Try to do this in a way that prevents misconceptions from spreading without embarrassing the student who provided it.
  • Remember that students will share information whether you provide a means or not. Do not let the fear of misinformation prevent you from taking advantage of the power of moderated student-student communication.

In addition, make sure that the knowledge that is created in the forums is integrated into your student evaluations. This way, spending time collaborating will not be seen as a time-waster by students.

Using blogs: Blogs are a good way to keep an individual voice while collaborating. Blogging is basically reflecting in public. Blogging is inherently an individual activity, but it is possible to permit (constructive) comments from readers. (Reynard, 2008).

Using wikis: A wiki is a web site that can be edited by anyone in your class. It is a powerful tool to co-create content, to aggregate your group’s collective knowledge, to build lists, to write collaborative documents like collective position letters, collaborative notebooks, large and segmented group projects, etc.  For more information and ideas on how to use wikis, visit the following web site: Wikis in Higher Education (and at UD).

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Presentation and Usability

Your course web site is your presence on the web. It is possible to customize your course site to give it your personal flavor, but beware doing so at the expense of web usability. According to Neilsen and Loranger (2008), "usability is a quality attribute relating to how easy something is to use. More specifically, it refers to how quickly people can learn something, how efficient they are while using it, how error-prone it is, and how much users like using it." The notion of usability is particularly crucial in distance education. Your first screen -- what is presented to your student the first time they click on your course tab -- plays a major role in guiding your students to the right activities and contents, and might save you a lot of troubleshooting.

Key Questions

  • Is customizing the look and feel of your home page important for your learner's experience?
    • YES: consider building a web page or web site outside of Sakai. Use an html link to open the external site in a new browser window.
    • NO: it might be best to leave the familiar Sakai look-and-feel as intact as possible
  • Are there course-specific instructions students should follow to make best use of your site? Consider adding text or HTML to your site's Home page.
  • Which tool should students see when they click your course tab?
  • Consider carefully the pros and cons of the Home Tool's synoptic view. Tools such as the Announcements and Calendar can be added to or removed from the Home page.

TIPS (Teaching Ideas/Practices/Suggestions)

  • Keep your menubar short: Human working memory can remember 7±2 elements, meaning that having more than nine elements in your menubar might make your site hard to use by forcing users to reread your menu every time they are searching for something.
  • Hide Sakai Tools (such as Site Info or Roster) that your students do not need to access.
  • Be explicit about expectations on your first screen: Students must know where the information is, which information will be dynamic, what actions are expected of them, etc. A lot of these issues could be tackled in your syllabus, but your first screen should direct users to this information.
  •  Keep the most relevant information high on every page. If you must include more information than will fit in a single un-scrolled screen, be sure that whatever you have at the top of the page encourages users to continue reading.

Technical Considerations:

Consider storing course media in a public location

Unless you are distributing media that must be protected from public view due to copyright considerations, you should upload course media to a public web location rather than into Sakai Resources. Your Sakai My Workspace Resources can be used as a public web location if you set the permissions on each file to public.

  • Media stored in a Sakai course site Resources folder must be copied into new courses each semester, which will clog the Sakai database with copy after copy of the same media.
  • Links you create to files stored within Sakai Resources need to be re-created each time they are copied. Links from a previous semester will not work for your new students.
  • Media stored in a public location can be shared with students and faculty around the world. High quality public offerings enhance both your reputation and that of the University.
  • Media stored in My Workspace are unlikely to be indexed by search engines. If you wish your media to be found, it is best to locate files in a traditional web folder, and create as many links as possible to them from other web locations, such as your personal and departmental home pages. If you are hoping that people will NOT be able to find your media, do not distribute the url to anyone outside your course.

Consider reformatting PowerPoint native files (ppt) into a web-friendly format such as html or swf.

If you must distribute ppt files online, advise students to download the free PowerPoint Viewer from Microsoft, and be sure to compress any images you have embedded in your slides. Follow the links below for detailed information on each of these options:

Carefully consider the file size of any media you wish to distribute.

Even with today's bandwidth, large files should not be distributed online. PowerPoint files, audio files, and some types of video must download completely before the first frame can be viewed. In constrast, Flash (swf) files, or media delivered from a streaming server can start to play well before the file has been completely downloaded.

  • Remember that screen sizes vary. This is especially important if you are accustomed to using a large screen with high resolution. Testing your site at a lower resolution will help you anticipate usability problems. Your site should be usable at 1024 X 768.
  • For help producing a 2-3 minute, low-quality audio or video file, contact the Student Multimedia Design Center. For more ambitious projects, contact UD Media Services for information about streaming media.
  • The easiest type of video to produce and deliver in the swf format is based on screen capture. This is particularly useful when demonstrating proper use of software or a website, but can also be used to create narrated slideshows. Software and assistance for screen capture video is available at both the PRESENT and the Student Multimedia Design Center. (CG7).

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Other References

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