This is a well-written article that addresses a clear need, particularly for those instructors who are considering offering an online course for the first time. It will also help those who have been in the online business for a while to refine their practice. The primary suggestion we'd offer would be to refer more frequently, perhaps as often as every "lesson learned", to the full technical report on which this article is based, in line with a comment from critic AAA, who wrote: "These concerns are likely addressed in the full technical report; however it would be useful to clearly reference such supporting material that may be found in the full report." It might be enough simply to include sentences such as "More detailed information on prompt feedback can be found <link>here</link>." Or, given the nature of the full technical report, it might suffice simply to make a general indication, in the first or second paragraph, that more detailed information is available in the technical report.

Seven Principles of Effective Teaching: A Practical Lens for Evaluating Online Courses

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The Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education, originally published in the AAHE Bulletin (Chickering & Gamson, 1987), were based on 50 years of research in higher education teaching and learning (Chickering & Reisser, 1993). The seven principles quickly became a popular framework for evaluating teaching in traditional face-to-face courses. A faculty inventory (1989) and an institutional inventory (1989) based on these principles helped faculty members and institutions of higher education examine and improve their teaching practices.

A team of evaluators from Indiana University's Center for Research on Learning and Technology (CRLT) recently used these principles to evaluate four online courses in a professional school could we indicate what kind of professional school?at a large Midwestern university. (The authors are required to keep the identity of that university confidential - Ed.) The courses were taught by regular university faculty members who also taught traditional face-to-face courses. The evaluations, conducted at the joint request of the faculty members and the administration, were based on an analysis of online course materials, student and instructor bulletin-board postings, and faculty interviews. The evaluators did not conduct student interviews, though they agreed such interviews would have enriched the findings.

Here, it might be best to address explicitly the comments of Critic DDD, who wrote: "Four courses seems like a small sample to make very many generalizations. Is this what was handy or the first step to more extensive research?"

And "It is unfortunate that no student interviews were included.... You may need to defend how you reached the conclusion that a technique was, indeed, effective."

A sentence or two should suffice for each concern.

The evaluators began by identifying examples, both good and bad, of each of Chickering and Gamson's seven principles found in the courses. (Each evaluator took the perspective of a student enrolled in the course.) What they developed was a list of "lessons" for online instruction that correspond to the original seven principles.

Principle 1: Good Practice Encourages Student-Faculty Contact

Lesson learned for online instruction: Instructors should provide guidelines for their interaction with students.

Instructors indicated that they wanted to be accessible to their online students, but were apprehensive about being overwhelmed with e-mail messages or bulletin board postings to which they would be expected to answer quickly. They feared that if they failed to respond quickly enough, students would feel ignored. Only one instructor established an e-mail policy to tell students when she would be available via e-mail. None of the other instructors provided such guidelines.

From our exploration of this principle, we recommend that student expectations and faculty concerns be mediated by developing guidelines for student-instructor interactions. These guidelines would do the following:

Principle 2: Good Practice Encourages Cooperation Among Students

Lesson learned for online instruction: Well-designed discussion assignments facilitate meaningful cooperation among students.

In our evaluations, we found that assignments often required only "participation" in the weekly class discussion forum. As a result, discussion often had no clear focus or insight. For example, one course required each of four students in a group to summarize a reading chapter individually and then discuss which summary should be submitted for the group. The communication among students in the group was shallow. Because the postings were summaries of the same reading, there were no substantive differences the students could debate. Discussions often focused on who did the most eloquent job of writing the summary.

Based on online teaching experience, could you please explain whose teaching experience you refer to? is it your own, or are these the results of your evaluation? we recommend the following guidelines to encourage meaningful participation in asynchronous online discussions:

Principle 3: Good Practice Encourages Active Learning

Lesson learned for online instruction: Students should present course projects.

In face-to-face classrooms, course projects are often an important part of learning. Students learn valuable skills from presenting their projects and are often motivated to perform at a higher level when they know they will be presenting to their peers. Similarly, students learn a great deal from seeing and discussing their peers' work.

Of the online courses evaluated, only one required students to present their work to the other students. This course required each student to present his or her solution to two cases what kind of cases? via the class Web site. The other students critiqued the solution and made further comments about the case. After all students responded, the case presenter updated and reposted his or her solution, including new insights or conclusions gained from classmates. Only after the case presentation did the instructor provide an overall reaction to the cases and specifically comment about issues the class identified or failed to identify in them. In this way, students learned from each other as well as from the instructor.

While formal synchronous presentations may not be possible or practical online, instructors can still provide opportunities for projects to be shared, explained, and discussed in the class forums.

Principle 4: Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback

Lesson learned for online instruction: Instructors need to provide two types of feedback, acknowledgment feedback and information feedback.

We found during the evaluation that there were two kinds of feedback provided by online instructors. We call them "information feedback" and "acknowledgement feedback." Information feedback, as the name implies, is informational or evaluative in nature, such as an answer to a question or an assignment grade and comments. We found that instructors were good at giving prompt information feedback to the students at the beginning of the semester, but as the semester progressed and instructors became busier, the frequency of responses decreased, and the response time increased. In some cases, students got feedback on postings after the discussion had already moved on to other topics.

Acknowledgement feedback confirms that some event has occurred. For example, the instructor may send an e-mail acknowledging he or she has received a question or assignment and will respond soon. Acknowledgement feedback was especially important in the case of one online course we evaluated, where one member of a student team submitted that team's projects. The instructor confirmed that she had received the assignment on time, providing reassurance to students. Still, we found that instructors rarely provided this kind of feedback, generally only when they were behind and wanted to inform students that assignments would be graded soon.

We believe that online instructors should be conscientious about providing both information and acknowledgement feedback to students. Forgetting acknowledgement feedback is common because it is implicit in a face-to-face course, where eye contact indicates to a student that the instructor has heard his or her comments, or simply seeing a completed assignment on in the instructor's hands confirms that the instructor has received it. Prompt acknowledgement feedback in an online environment is essential to reducing student anxieties.

Here, it might be helpful to respond more thoroughly to the following comment from a critic: "There seems to be a need for a concluding paragraph here. The two types of feedback are described, but the discussion begs the questions of how to manage the two types, how one substitutes for the other, when each is effective."

Principle 5: Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task

Lesson learned for online instruction: Courses need deadlines as much as or more than face-to-face courses do.

One course we evaluated allowed students to work at their own pace throughout the semester, without any intermediate deadlines requiring them to participate on a regular basis. The rationale for this was that many of the students worked full-time and needed the flexibility. However, regularly-distributed deadlines encourage students to spend time on tasks and help students with busy schedules to avoid procrastination. They also provide a context for regular contact with the instructor and peers throughout the semester.

Principle 6: Good Practice Communicates High Expectations

Lessons learned for online instruction: Challenging tasks, example cases, and praise for quality work communicate high expectations.

Communicating high expectations for student performance is essential, and there are many ways for instructors to do this. One way is to give challenging assignments. For example, one instructor assigned tasks that required students to apply theories real-world situations rather than just remember facts or concepts. This was done using a case-based approach in which students had to solve real problems with authentic data gathered from real-world situations.

Another way to communicate high expectations is to provide examples or models for students to follow, along with comments explaining why each exemple is good. One instructor provided examples of student work from a previous semester as models for current students, including comments demonstrating how the example met her expectations. In another course, the instructor provided examples of the types of interactions that she expected to occur in the discussion forum. One example was an exemplary posting, while the other two were examples of what not to do, highlighting trends from the past that she wanted students to avoid.

Finally, publicly praising exemplary work communicates high expectations. Instructors do this by praising or calling attention to the comments or bulletin board postings of students who have insightful ideas or who present their arguments well.

Principle 7: Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

Lesson learned for online instruction: Allowing students to choose their own project topics incorporates diverse views into online courses.

In several of the courses we evaluated, students shaped their own coursework by choosing project topics according to a set of guidelines. One course that focused on current policies in the field could we say what field this is without violating confidentiality - business? political science? used a discussion assignment where students were to present and defend a current issue. Each student researched a different policy issue and led online discussion. The instructor encouraged diverse interests by allowing students to research their own issue of interest instead of assigning particular issues.


The Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education served as a practical lens for our evaluation team to look at the quality of four online courses in an accredited program at a major U.S. university. Using the seven principles as a general framework for the evaluation gave us insights into important aspects of online teaching and learning. A comprehensive report of the evaluation findings is available in a CRLT technical report (Graham, et al., 2000).

Editor's Note: This article is modified from a technical report (Graham, Cagiltay, Craner, Lim, & Duffy, 2000).


Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39, 3-7.

Chickering, A., & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and identity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Chickering, A., & Ehrmann, S. (1997). Implementing the seven principles: Technology as a lever. American Association for Higher Education. Retrieved 18 September 2000 from the World Wide Web:

Graham, C., Cagiltay, K., Craner, J., Lim, B., & Duffy, T. M. (2000). Teaching in a Web-based distance learning environment: An evaluation summary based on four courses. Center for Research on Learning and Technology Technical Report No. 13-00. Indiana University Bloomington. Retrieved 18 September 2000 from the World Wide Web:

Principles for good practice in undergraduate education: Faculty inventory. (1989). Racine, WI: The Johnson Foundation, Inc.

Principles for good practice in undergraduate education: Institutional inventory. (1989). Racine, WI: The Johnson Foundation, Inc.