For more teaching ideas, workshop materials and
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THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES: Technology
Arthur W. Chickering and Stephen C. Ehrmann
This article originally appeared in print as:
Arthur and Stephen C. Ehrmann (1996), "Implementing the Seven
Principles: Technology as Lever,"
Bulletin, October, pp. 3-6.
the bottom of this Web page for updates,
a link to a huge collection of ideas for using
technology to implement the seven
principles, a recorded interview with Chickering and Ehrmann about this
history of the seven principles and their relevance to technology use, and our request that you share
more such examples of technology use.
In March 1987,
the AAHE Bulletin first published Seven Principles for Good Practice in
Undergraduate Education. With support from Lilly Endowment, that document was
followed by a Seven Principles Faculty Inventory and an Institutional Inventory (Johnson
Foundation, 1989) and by a Student Inventory (1990). The Principles, created by Art
Chickering and Zelda Gamson with help from higher education colleagues, AAHE, and the
Education Commission of the States, with support from the Johnson Foundation, distilled
findings from decades of research on the undergraduate experience.
thousand copies of the Principles and Inventories have been distributed on two- and
four-year campuses in the United States and Canada. (Copies are available at cost from the
Seven Principles Resource Center, Winona State University, PO Box 5838, Winona, MN
55987-5838; ph 507/457-5020.) Eds.
Since the Seven
Principles of Good Practice were created in 1987, new communication and information
technologies have become major resources for teaching and learning in higher education. If
the power of the new technologies is to be fully realized, they should be employed in ways
consistent with the Seven Principles. Such technologies are tools with multiple
capabilities; it is misleading to make assertions like Microcomputers will empower
students because that is only one way in which computers might be used.
instructional strategy can be supported by a number of contrasting technologies (old and
new), just as any given technology might support different instructional strategies. But
for any given instructional strategy, some technologies are better than others: Better to
turn a screw with a screwdriver than a hammer a dime may also do the trick, but a
screwdriver is usually better.
then, describes some of the most cost-effective and appropriate ways to use computers,
video, and telecommunications technologies to advance the Seven Principles.
Good Practice Encourages Contacts Between Students and Faculty
Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of class is a most
important factor in student motivation and involvement. Faculty concern helps students get
through rough times and keep on working. Knowing a few faculty members well enhances
students intellectual commitment and encourages them to think about their own values
technologies that increase access to faculty members, help them share useful resources,
and provide for joint problem solving and shared learning can usefully augment
face-to-face contact in and outside of class meetings. By putting in place a more
distant source of information and guidance for students, such technologies can
strengthen faculty interactions with all students, but especially with shy students who
are reluctant to ask questions or challenge the teacher directly. It is often easier to
discuss values and personal concerns in writing than orally, since inadvertent or
ambiguous nonverbal signals are not so dominant. As the number of commuting part-time
students and adult learners increases, technologies provide opportunities for interaction
not possible when students come to class and leave soon afterward to meet work or family
success story in this realm has been that of time-delayed (asynchronous) communication.
Traditionally, time-delayed communication took place in education through the exchange of
homework, either in class or by mail (for more distant learners). Such time-delayed
exchange was often a rather impoverished form of conversation, typically limited to three
poses a question (a task).
responds (with homework).
responds some time later with comments and a grade.
conversation often ends there; by the time the grade or comment is received, the course
and student are off on new topics.
electronic mail, computer conferencing, and the World Wide Web increase opportunities for
students and faculty to converse and exchange work much more speedily than before, and
more thoughtfully and safely than when confronting each other in a classroom
or faculty office. Total communication increases and, for many students, the result seems
more intimate, protected, and convenient than the more intimidating demands of
face-to-face communication with faculty.
Norman Coombs reports that, after twelve years of teaching black history at the Rochester
Institute of Technology, the first time he used email was the first time a student asked
what he, a white man, was doing teaching black history. The literature is full of stories
of students from different cultures opening up in and out of class when email became
available. Communication also is eased when student or instructor (or both) is not a
native speaker of English; each party can take a bit more time to interpret what has been
said and compose a response. With the new media, participation and contribution from
diverse students become more equitable and widespread.
Good Practice Develops Reciprocity and Cooperation Among Students
is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good
work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often
increases involvement in learning. Sharing ones ideas and responding to others
improves thinking and deepens understanding.
opportunities for interaction with faculty noted above apply equally to communication with
fellow students. Study groups, collaborative learning, group problem solving, and
discussion of assignments can all be dramatically strengthened through communication tools
that facilitate such activity.
The extent to
which computer-based tools encourage spontaneous student collaboration was one of the
earliest surprises about computers. A clear advantage of email for todays busy
commuting students is that it opens up communication among classmates even when they are
not physically together.
One of us, attempting to learn to navigate the Web, took a course taught entirely by a
combination of televised class sessions (seen live or taped) and by work on a course Web
page. The hundred students in the course included persons in Germany and the Washington,
helped themselves learn the plumbing and solve problems. These team members
never met face-to-face. But they completed and exchanged Myers-Briggs Type Inventories,
surveys of their prior experience and level of computer expertise, and brief personal
introductions. This material helped teammates size one another up initially; team
interactions then built working relationships and encouraged acquaintanceship. This kind
of collaborative learning would be all but impossible without the presence of
the media we were learning about and with.
Good Practice Uses Active Learning Techniques
Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn
much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments,
and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively
about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make
what they learn part of themselves.
The range of
technologies that encourage active learning is staggering. Many fall into one of three
categories: tools and resources for learning by doing, time-delayed exchange, and
real-time conversation. Today, all three usually can be supported with
worldware, i.e., software (such as word processors) originally developed for
other purposes but now used for instruction, too.
already discussed communication tools, so here we will focus on learning by doing.
Apprentice-like learning has been supported by many traditional technologies: research
libraries, laboratories, art and architectural studios, athletic fields. Newer
technologies now can enrich and expand these opportunities. For example:
apprentice-like activities in fields that themselves require the use of technology as a
tool, such as statistical research and computer-based music, or use of the Internet to
gather information not available in the local library.
techniques that do not themselves require computers, such as helping chemistry students
develop and practice research skills in dry simulated laboratories before they
use the riskier, more expensive real equipment.
develop insight. For example, students can be asked to design a radio antenna. Simulation
software displays not only their design but the ordinarily invisible electromagnetic waves
the antenna would emit. Students change their designs and instantly see resulting changes
in the waves. The aim of this exercise is not to design antennae but to build deeper
understanding of electromagnetism.
Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback
Knowing what you know and dont know focuses your learning. In
getting started, students need help in assessing their existing knowledge and competence.
Then, in classes, students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive feedback on
their performance. At various points during college, and at its end, students need chances
to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how they might
The ways in
which new technologies can provide feedback are many sometimes obvious, sometimes
more subtle. We already have talked about the use of email for supporting person-to-person
feedback, for example, and the feedback inherent in simulations. Computers also have a
growing role in recording and analyzing personal and professional performances. Teachers
can use technology to provide critical observations for an apprentice; for example, video
to help a novice teacher, actor, or athlete critique his or her own performance. Faculty
(or other students) can react to a writers draft using the hidden text
option available in word processors: Turned on, the hidden comments spring up;
turned off, the comments recede and the writers prized work is again free of
As we move
toward portfolio evaluation strategies, computers can provide rich storage and easy access
to student products and performances. Computers can keep track of early efforts, so
instructors and students can see the extent to which later efforts demonstrate gains in
knowledge, competence, or other valued outcomes. Performances that are time-consuming and
expensive to record and evaluate such as leadership skills, group process
management, or multicultural interactions can be elicited and stored, not only for
ongoing critique but also as a record of growing capacity.
Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task
Time plus energy equals learning. Learning to use
ones time well is critical for students and professionals alike. Allocating
realistic amounts of time means effective learning for students and effective teaching for
technologies can dramatically improve time on task for students and faculty members. Some
years ago a faculty member told one of us that he used technology to steal
students beer time, attracting them to work on course projects instead of
goofing off. Technology also can increase time on task by making studying more efficient.
Teaching strategies that help students learn at home or work can save hours otherwise
spent commuting to and from campus, finding parking places, and so on. Time efficiency
also increases when interactions between teacher and students, and among students, fit
busy work and home schedules. And students and faculty alike make better use of time when
they can get access to important resources for learning without trudging to the library,
flipping through card files, scanning microfilm and microfiche, and scrounging the
members interested in classroom research, computers can record student participation and
interaction and help document student time on task, especially as related to student
Good Practice Communicates High Expectations
Expect more and you will get it. High expectations are
important for everyone for the poorly prepared, for those unwilling to exert
themselves, and for the bright and well motivated. Expecting students to perform well
becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
technologies can communicate high expectations explicitly and efficiently. Significant
real-life problems, conflicting perspectives, or paradoxical data sets can set powerful
learning challenges that drive students to not only acquire information but sharpen their
cognitive skills of analysis, synthesis, application, and evaluation.
report that students feel stimulated by knowing their finished work will be
published on the World Wide Web. With technology, criteria for evaluating
products and performances can be more clearly articulated by the teacher, or generated
collaboratively with students. General criteria can be illustrated with samples of
excellent, average, mediocre, and faulty performance. These samples can be shared and
modified easily. They provide a basis for peer evaluation, so learning teams can help
Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning
Many roads lead to learning. Different students bring different
talents and styles to college. Brilliant students in a seminar might be all thumbs in a
lab or studio; students rich in hands-on experience may not do so well with theory.
Students need opportunities to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them.
Then they can be pushed to learn in new ways that do not come so easily.
resources can ask for different methods of learning through powerful visuals and
well-organized print; through direct, vicarious, and virtual experiences; and through
tasks requiring analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, with applications to real-life
situations. They can encourage self-reflection and self-evaluation. They can drive
collaboration and group problem solving. Technologies can help students learn in ways they
find most effective and broaden their repertoires for learning. They can supply structure
for students who need it and leave assignments more open-ended for students who
dont. Fast, bright students can move quickly through materials they master easily
and go on to more difficult tasks; slower students can take more time and get more
feedback and direct help from teachers and fellow students. Aided by technologies,
students with similar motives and talents can work in cohort study groups without
constraints of time and place.
and the Seven Principles
How are we to know whether given technologies are as useful in
promoting the Seven Principles and learning as this article claims? One approach is to
look and see, which is the aim of the Flashlight
Project, a three-year effort begun by the Annenberg/CPB Project to develop and share evaluation procedures. The
Project is developing a suite of evaluation tools that any campus can use to monitor the
usefulness of technology in implementing the Seven Principles and the impacts of such
changes on learning outcomes (e.g., the students ability to apply what was learned
in the academic program) and on access (e.g., whether hoped-for gains in time on task and
retention are saving money for the institution and its funders).
[For more about
the Flashlight Program, see Stephen Ehrmanns Asking the Right Questions: What
Does Research Tell Us About Technology and Higher Learning? in the March/April 1995
Is Not Enough
The Seven Principles cannot be implemented by technophiles alone, or
even by faculty alone. Students need to become familiar with the Principles and be more
assertive with respect to their own learning. When confronted with teaching strategies and
course requirements that use technologies in ways contrary to the Principles, students
should, if possible, move to alternatives that serve them better. If teaching focuses
simply on memorizing and regurgitating prepackaged information, whether delivered by a
faculty lecture or computer, students should reach for a different course, search out
additional resources or complementary experiences, establish their own study groups, or go
to the professor for more substantial activities and feedback.
who already work with students in ways consistent with the Principles need to be
tough-minded about the software- and technology-assisted interactions they create and buy
into. They need to eschew materials that are simply didactic, and search instead for those
that are interactive, problem oriented, relevant to real-world issues, and that evoke
policies concerning learning resources and technology support need to give high priority
to user-friendly hardware, software, and communication vehicles that help faculty and
students use technologies efficiently and effectively. Investments in professional
development for faculty members, plus training and computer lab assistance for students,
will be necessary if learning potentials are to be realized.
Finally, it is
appropriate for legislators and other benefactors to ask whether institutions are striving
to improve educational practice consistent with the Seven Principles. Much depends on the
Note: This article draws on Arthur Chickerings participation in
The Future of Face-to-Face and Distance Learning in Post-Secondary Education,
a workgroup chaired by W.L. Renwick as part of a larger effort examining The Future of
Post-Secondary Education and the Role of Information and Communication Technology: A
Clarifying Report, carried out by the Center for Educational Research and Innovation,
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Paris: 1993, 1994.
The Flashlight Program is now a part of the non-profit
Learning, and Technology Group. The TLT Group provides a range
of services to help faculty, their institutions, and their programs make
more sensible use of technology. About 250 colleges,
universities, state boards, and multi-institution projects now subscribe
to TLT Group tools or services.
Stephen C. Ehrmann
Updated January, 2008
The TLT Group has created a large library of
teaching ideas, sorted by the seven
principles. It's a successor to, and
complement to, the article you've
just read. There's a smaller, public
version of this article and a larger
version plus other resources that's
available only to the 300+
institutions that subscribe to the
TLT/Flashlight Program. To
see this TLT/Seven Principles
library of teaching ideas, click
My colleague Steve Gilbert has pointed out
another way to array these practices for advancing the seven principles:
by how hard or easy they are for faculty to learn quickly and for the
institution to support.
Steve has spotlighted low threshold
activities: uses of technology that are (for that faculty member in
that institution at that time) quite easy to learn (in seconds or minutes)
and easy for the institution to support (even if all faculty want to use
technology in that way.) This
Web page contains a growing list of references and materials about
such activities. We may soon begin development of a library of low
threshold activities for each of the seven principles and, if so, we'll
need your help, so watch this space!
Other strategies for implementing the seven principles are
'high threshold': they require substantial reorganization and rethinking
of faculty roles. Some of these ideas involve course redesign (e.g., the BioCalc
course for teaching calculus to biology students at the University of
Illinois, Urbana Champaign). Others, even more ambitious, are
conscious efforts to change a major (e.g., by institutionalizing
problem-based learning) or a whole institution (e.g., Alverno College).
Although some of these ideas have succeeded and have made permanent,
national changes in higher learning, too many others have flowered briefly
and withered, or never flowered at all. Often the very technology that
helped spark interest in these ideas was blamed some years later as
inadequate, and the reason the innovation had failed. In "Using
Technology to Make Large-Scale Improvements in The Outcomes of Higher Education: Learning From Past Mistakes,"
I suggested that we've failed repeatedly because we've made the same
mistakes repeatedly, in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and today. It's time to
learn from those errors. This article draws on past experience to
suggest a five part strategy for using technology to make
valuable, large scale, lasting improvements in who can learn and what they have learned
by the time they complete a program in higher education.
Is it true that
research has never proved that technology improves learning? I
tried to summarize some of the findings that have had the greatest
influence on my own thinking in the 1995 article, "
Asking the Right Questions: What Does Research Tell Us About Technology
and Higher Learning?" in Change. The
Magazine of Higher Learning, XXVII:2 (March/April), pp. 20-27. This essay gives a brief overview of the evaluation
literature on teaching, learning, technology and costs.
Are there articles
or web sites that have proven valuable to you and your colleagues that
should be added to this list of resources? Please e-mail
me your suggestions and explain the value of the resource. I'll add
the best of them to this article (which is currently drawing about 4500
readers a month).