Section 1: Course Structure and Content
||One or more of the references addresses an online, computer-based,
or web-enhanced teaching environment.
||Best practice applies to a wide range
of subject areas and teaching methods.
|Best practice has been used or observed by Collegis staff, and
comes highly recommended.
clear course goals.
The Teaching Goals Inventory, found on pages 13-24 of Angelo
and Cross (1993), is “a simple, effective tool for identifying and
clarifying…teaching goals.” This inventory had the input of “nearly
five thousand college teachers who took part in three separate TGI survey
administrations.” It has also been extensively field-tested. An online
version is available from the Center for Teaching at the University of
Design an effective syllabus.
McKeachie (1991) provides some practical
tips for teaching and learning in the college classroom, including guidelines
for creating a useful and informative syllabus. See also McKeachie,
Pintrich, Lin, and Smith (1986) for practical teaching tips based on educational
Palloff and Pratt (1999) provide an extensive
discussion effective practice with respect to online syllabi, examples of
online syllabi, and guiding questions for syllabus preparation, in Chapter
7, “Building Foundations” (pp. 87-109) and Resource A (pp. 169-188).
Recognize that students may have different learning
styles, and make an effort to match your teaching to multiple
Grasha's (1996) work suggests that preferred
learning style and preferred teaching style is only one part of the dynamic
of effective instruction. Many other factors impact the outcomes, such as
learner preparedness, motivation, and study habits. Grasha suggests that instructors
may not be as effective as possible if they go too far beyond their preferred
teaching style, and as such recommends instructors not try to affect styles
that are not suited for them.
Pulsinelli and Roubie (2001) describe
a virtual learning environment based on a diversity model developed at George
Mason University for students with learning disabilities. Research suggests
that serving a range of learning disabilities opens the potential for user-interface
confusion. As such, diversity modeling can serve as a powerful design tool.
Design learning environments that support a variety of
Martinez (2001) has documented some key
design considerations for personalized learning on the web. Martinez makes
the following suggestions:
- “For transforming learners, design environments that are sophisticated,
discovery-oriented, mentoring environments where learners who want to
be assertive, challenged by complex problem solving situations, and able
to self-manage learning and self-monitor progress can attain higher standard,
- For performing learners, design environments that are project- or task-oriented,
energizing, competitive, interactive (hands on) environments, which use
coaching, practice, and feedback to encourage self-motivation, holistic
thinking, problem solving, self-monitoring progress, and task sequencing,
while minimizing the need for extra effort and difficult standards.
- For conforming learners, design environments that are simple, scaffolded,
structured, non-risk environments that use explicit, careful guidance.
They should help individuals learn comfortably in an easy, step-wise fashion.
These environments should also encourage learners to take assertive, challenging
steps towards more independent, self-motivated achievement.”
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If teaching online, create course content pages so that
they support web user reading techniques.
Jakob Nielsen has one of the classic web design columns. Nielsen
(1997) recommends that pages be set up newspaper style with the conclusion
stated first. He also advocates highlighting keywords, creating meaningful
subheadings, using bulleted lists, and being terse. This article can be found
Give students significant control
over navigation of course materials.
Ford and Chen (2000) conducted an empirical
study of individual differences in hypermedia navigation and learning. Excerpts
from the abstract: “From this and other research, there would appear
to be considerable evidence that people with different cognitive styles display
characteristically different learning strategies. However, the extent to which
and the conditions under which such different strategies affect learning outcomes
can be affected…However, when students are allowed more control over
navigation in relatively nonlinear learning environments (including hypermedia),
the evidence is less consistent, and a number of studies have reported no
significant differences in learning outcomes despite learners displaying characteristic
learning strategie...The present study also found no significant interactions
between learning strategies displayed by learners of different cognitive style
and learning outcomes.”
Provide learners with
some control over the sequence of learning activities.
Dillon and Gabbard (1998) conducted a
review of research on hypermedia as an educational technology. They were interested
in effects of variables such as learner comprehension, control and style.
Hypermedia offers users more control over access and exploration than traditional
formats (such as paper). Although the effects of increased control do not
significantly affect low and middle performing students, there is some research
that shows promising results for improving the learning of high performing
When using technologies,
provide content in multiple media to support the formation of
more robust mental models.
Kozma (1991) draws several conclusions
about learning based on a literature review of learning with media. Two of
the more important conclusions were:
- The combined use of audio and visual representations “resulted in
more recall than visual-only and audio-only presentations.”
- “..the bushier nature of representations derived from the visual
symbol systems are better for building mental models of the situation
than are representations based on audio-linguistic information.”
Kozma also reviewed the literature on hypermedia up to 1991,
pointing out many pros and cons of learning in this medium that are still
relevant today (pp. 202-205).
In online environments,
be aware of the effects of download time for varying multimedia
A study by Davis and Hantula (2001) hypothesized
that there would be increased student dissatisfaction with increasingly long
download delays. The results pointed to a more complex state of affairs. The
effects of download delay may be greater when the material is more complex.
There may be a timeframe in which a delay is beneficial because users take
the time to study the other material on the page more thoroughly. After a
certain amount of time elapsed, users did stop studying. If graphics are highly
pertinent, users will view them as suitable despite lengthy download delays.
Recognize that learners will approach the
course from different perspectives.
Wilburg (1994-95) found that men and women
approach technology differently for learning purposes. Findings include that
men have a more random approach to technology, whereas women are more goal-oriented.
Wilburg wrote that men, "see a computer as a machine that extends their
power and get excited about the computer itself, while woman (sic) approach
the computer more relationally, seeking ways to use it to relate to other
people" (p. 8).
In addition, Shuell and Farber (2001)
found that undergraduate and graduate students’ perceptions of technology
were driven by their active engagement and personal characteristics. They
wrote, "The data suggest that students' perceptions depend on the way
technology is used in the course, on the students' learning preferences, and
on students' gender. Those students actively engaged with the technology were
more likely to perceive positive effects of technology as a learning tool,
reflecting the importance of active learning" (p. 134).
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Design activities that
encourage “active” learning in which students are
expected to participate.
A study by Zoller (1999) compared large
and small chemistry classes at two different institutions in order to challenge
the traditional approach to chemistry education in which the instructor covers
material that will appear on an examination. This study applied an inquiry-oriented
approach to class discussion requiring more active learning on the part of
the students. The author concluded that an active learning approach to class
discussions is "feasible and effective" (p. 593) even for large
When using case studies,
write interesting and effective cases.
Paraschos (1991) discusses the elements
of good cases and bad cases in teaching. Written from a diplomacy perspective,
this paper provides a very good description of the characteristics of a well-written
and effective case. In this paper, a case also includes teaching notes about
how to effectively moderate a case discussion. Their recommendations include
- write good teaching notes that will help you teach the case to students
- keep your own analyses out of the case - leaving analysis up to the students
- keep personal opinions out of the case
- capture the human element
- hook the readers by making it interesting
- give attention to the structure, or “plot” of the case
- avoid sweeping generalizations and excessive detail.
Simmons (ND) provides a good introduction to using
case studies in teaching. This article defines four phases in teaching a case
and suggests six questions to use to structure a case discussion.
In addition, Barnes, Christensen, and Hansen (1994)
have authored a classic book on case method in the Harvard School of Business.
Use problem-based learning
to apply course concepts.
Sage and Torp (1997) demonstrated that
student learning is greater with a problem-oriented approach compared to a
fact-oriented approach. They also suggest that student motivation, development
of critical thinking skills, and a deeper understanding of content are all
improved using a problem-based learning approach.
Adequately prepare students
for problem-based approaches to learning, and provide feedback
to students during the process.
Oliver and Omari (2000) found that while
students perceived valued and gained from learning in a collaborative, problem-based
environment, many expressed a preference for a more conventional teacher-directed
form of learning. The study's authors felt that merely participating in problem-based
learning was not sufficient for student development of problem-solving skills.
Rather, students needed guidance regarding the group and the problem-solving
process. According to the authors, "The development of these skills it
would appear must come from some deliberate strategy aimed at helping students
to reflect on their learning processes and through feedback which informs
and encourages their progress" (p. 45).
When using problem-based
learning, provide adequate structure for group work.
Oliver and Omari (2001) explored satisfaction
and outcomes of 240 first-year students doing problem-based learning in a
web-enhanced environment. Recommendations from this study include creation
of stronger guidelines for group work, the need for reliable technology, and
the need for teaching problem-solving and metacognitive skills to this population.
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Provide appropriate individual
and creative problem-solving opportunities.
For individual work, provide more alternative solutions. For
group work, provide a common mental model that is appropriate to the task,
and provide a more limited range of alternatives that the group can then evaluate
and refine. Mumford, Feldman, Hein, and Nagao's (2001)
study of individual and group creative problem solving performance involved
undergraduates who were assigned randomly to work as individuals or in 3-person
groups. Some individuals and groups received advanced training to provide
them with a common mental model that may or may not have matched their problem.
Some were given a survey that presented an increased number of alternative
solutions to the problem. They found that:
- Individuals did not outperform groups.
- Shared mental models are important to groups because they support group
coordination and effective exchange.
- Groups “produce more workable, but not necessarily more original
solutions to novel problems.”
The study also found that individuals with a wider range of alternative
solutions available to them performed better. Groups who received advanced
training pertinent to their problem performed better. Also, groups with a
limited number of high quality alternatives performed better.
Provide activities such
as summarizing or generating questions that will encourage students
to think critically and generate their own meaningful connections
with the materials.
Radmacher and Latosi-Sawin (1995) found
that students who used summary writing in one class performed 8% higher on
than the mean score of a class without summary writing.
An article by King (1995) provides a model in which
student questioning can be used within the curriculum. King’s article
provides an inquiry-based model for promoting critical thinking in psychology,
and provides research findings to substantiate the model.
Insert questions, charts,
and/or diagrams into text to help students better regulate their
own comprehension or visualize a concept.
Richards and Denner (1979) conducted a
review of the research on inserted questions as aids to reading text. They
reviewed studies on type, placement, and processing of questions. Findings
from several studies suggested that inserted questions can have a significant
impact on reading comprehension and other outcomes. In addition, there is
evidence that poor comprehenders may benefit more from inserted meaningful
post-questions than good comprehenders.
Encourage students to
use good learning strategies, such as re-reading, note-taking,
distributing learning over time, and time management.
Weinstein and Mayer (1986) discuss the
importance of several kinds of learning strategies, such as rehearsal strategies,
elaboration strategies, organizational strategies, comprehension monitoring
strategies, and affective/motivational strategies. They present research findings
on the effectiveness of these strategies, as well as ways in which instructors
can encourage the use of these strategies in their classes.
Encourage critical thinking
by presenting students with tasks that require analysis, synthesis,
and problem recognition, and problem solving, inference, and evaluation.
Kurfiss' (1988) review of the literature
on critical thinking provides some recommendations for activities to promote
critical thinking. Included are recommended activities that require students
to analyze, synthesize, and recognize problems.
See also, Angelo's (1995) Classroom Assessment for
Critical Thinking for additional information on problem solving, inference,
Provide adequate support
for students so they can perform course activities successfully
Jones and Laffey (2001) conducted a study
to identify the components that supported the transition of MBA students from
classroom to online instruction. They found that the following issues impacted
the ease of transition: perceived advantage, computability with tasks, complexity
of tasks, training, observability of tasks, and institutional culture. When
these elements conflicted with the goals for online learning, the adoption
process slowed down; conversely, when these elements were in synch with online
learning, they supported the process.
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Provide frequent and prompt feedback to students.
Kolb's work (1982) identified providing
learners with the opportunity to reflect upon feedback and trying again as
a key component of the learning process.
Ramsden (1992) did work that is based
on an Australian study in which learners consistently ranked feedback as the
most important issue in teacher quality. In Ramsden’s study, those teachers
who gave prompt and meaningful feedback were perceived as better teachers
by their students.
for frequent interactions between yourself and your students.
A study by Zack (1995) found that the
use of e-mail and computer conferencing resulted in the instructor being more
accessible. As such, the students perceived the instructor as more responsive
and committed to their learning.
Convey high (but reasonable)
expectations of your students; be careful to hold the same expectations
for all of the students in your course.
In a review of the research on teacher expectations, Good
(1987) highlights the Brophy-Good model of teacher expectations, which
describes how an expectation communication process might happen in the classroom.
The model describes how differential expectations can lead to differential
treatment of the students. This treatment tells students something about how
they are expected to behave, and leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy which
then reinforces the teacher’s expectations. The differential treatment
of high and low achievers has been well-documented in research. Examples include:
- Waiting less time for lows to answer questions
- Giving lows the answers or calling on someone else to provide the answer
- Criticizing lows more often for failure
- Failing to give feedback to the public responses of low achievers
- Seating low achievers farther away from the teacher
Although much of the research in this area has been done in middle
and secondary schools, there may be evidence to suggest a continuation of
these findings into college teaching.
Observe copyright and
fair use policies and guidelines.
Your institution will likely have its own resources and policies
regarding copyright and fair use.Smith, Eddy, Richards,
and Dixon (2000) conducted a multiple case study of ten Research I and
II institutions and found that 90% of the respondents had centrally controlled
distance education administration and related copyright and intellectual property
polices. Abstract available online.