September 2015
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Heather Gaddis, Academic Coordinator of Educational Technology, Colegio Fontanar, Queretaro, Mexico

In 1987, Chickering and Gamson published an article entitled "Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education," which has been widely used to evaluate face-to-face classes. This article takes four of the principles from this article and applies them to the online teaching context. The principles covered focus on clear deadlines, prompt feedback, active learning, and high expectations.

Principle 1: Instruction should include clear deadlines.

In Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) original list, this principle is most closely related to emphasizing time on task. While the role that an online instructor has in helping students learn time management may be different from that of a traditional professor, having clear deadlines can be helpful for students. For instance, in addition to having clear deadlines at the end of assignments, it is also important to have intermediate deadlines. As Graham, Cagiltay, Lim, Craner, and Duffy (2001) point out, having deadlines creates a point of contact between professor and students.

Having deadlines for components of a large project rather than for only the final product will help the professor monitor students’ progress. Creating intermediate deadlines will also help to create more points of contact between students because it will ensure that students follow the steps of an assignment without getting lost and that they engage with their fellow students in the online environment. This can be especially helpful in discussion assignments where some students will post at the beginning of the assignment period and then never return to the discussion forum to see other students’ contributions. By requiring students to post once by a certain date and then respond to a classmate at a later date, it is more likely they will read and reflect on their classmates’ work.

Principle 2: Instruction should include prompt feedback and course progress indicators.

This principle focuses on what Graham et al. (2001) refer to as information and acknowledgment feedback. Without face-to-face contact, it becomes even more critical for professors to inform students of their progress via prompt information feedback. Information feedback in forums and other discussion assignments also allows student to know that the professor is there and lets the professor guide the discussion when necessary. In addition, without the ability to physically give a professor an assignment, students also need to know that an assignment has been received to avoid confusion.

This type of feedback can be given by the instructor via email or through the course management system used. For example, many course management systems allow professors to attach feedback to the original assignment via annotations or file uploads. A professor could upload the rubric used to grade the assignment with the student’s grade for each criterion highlighted or marked.

Finally, when appropriate, feedback should be linked to a course progress indicator system so that students can keep track of how they are doing in a course. Such a tool would also give the instructor an easier way to monitor students who may need an extra support.

Principle 3: Instruction should include tasks that promote active learning.

Graham et al. (2001) suggest that, in the online course context, active learning usually means completing projects. However, what constitutes active learning will vary from course to course and should be left up to the discretion of the course instructor or designer as well as be in line with the learning philosophy of the course and program.

For example, having students contribute to a class dictionary by adding their own definitions and examples of concepts covered throughout the semester would allow for students to create content as well as review concepts previously seen. Whether the task comes in the form of an exercise, a project, or something else, the task should enhance the content of the course (Monterey Institute for Technology and Education, 2010). Simply transferring a traditional course exactly as previously taught to an online platform without careful consideration of how to take advantage of tools available for online learning will not result in an engaging learning experience for students.

Principle 4: Instruction should communicate and prepare students for high expectations.

As Graham et al. (2001) point out, high expectations can be communicated in a variety of ways, including models of student work with explanations and sample cases. Saving students’ work from previous semesters is one way of providing students with models. High expectations can also be communicated via a clear course syllabus, assignment descriptions, and the type of feedback that the instructor gives to students.

The instructor should also prepare students for high expectations by providing them with rubrics and other grading tools before the assignment is undertaken by the students. These grading tools guide students when they are completing the assignment and also encourage self-assessment, which will help students have high expectations for themselves. Students cannot be expected to meet high expectations when they are not aware of what the standards are. Making students aware of expectations is important in any educational setting, but it becomes more important in the online setting because there are fewer points of contact between the students, and students new to online learning might not feel comfortable reaching out to the professor to ask clarifying questions.

The principles described above are general best practices in the field of education. However, the online teaching and learning environment presents challenges and opportunities different from those of the traditional face-to-face context. Meeting these challenges and taking advantage of these opportunities will make the online learning experience for students less daunting and more engaging.


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

Graham, C., Cagiltay, K., Lim, B., Craner, J., & Duffy, T. M. (2001). The technology source archives - Seven principles of effective teaching: A practical lens for evaluating online courses. The Technology Source Archives. Retrieved from

Monterey Institute for Technology and Education. (2010). The online course evaluation project overview. Retrieved from

Heather Gaddis has been an ESL/EFL teacher in the United States, Mexico, and Turkey since 2008. She became interested in teaching online after taking a TESOL course. She then completed a master’s degree in educational technology.

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