Monday, May 11, 2009

Chickering and Gamson and Synchronous Online Teaching

About 20 years ago, the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) sponsored the development of a statement of principles for good undergraduate education. These were compiled by Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson as a summary of decades of research and the collective wisdom of those investigating the college experience. “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” was published in the March 1987 AAHE Bulletin. The principles declare that good practice

1. Encourages student-faculty contact
2. Encourages cooperation among students
3. Encourages active learning
4. Gives prompt feedback
5. Emphasizes time on task
6. Communicates high expectations
7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning

I’ve been lately interested in how these principles are applied in the online Confer environment. For example, how does one use CCC Confer to encourage the first principle, student-faculty contact? What tools are most appropriate for this goal, and what practices or techniques reinforce the principle best? Are these equivalent to traditional classroom practices, or does the online environment change the way this principle is supported?

In the traditional classroom environment, student-faculty contact is encouraged by:
  • office hours in which students can meet with faculty one-on-one or in small, informal groups
  • allowing for in-class discourse (raising hands, seeking student feedback or input)
  • telephone or e-mail accessibility
You can see that Confer provides a “first principle-friendly” environment, in that office hours are an option, without the space and travel constraints common to campuses, any time and any day. The opportunities to raise hands in the Confer classroom, to get feedback from students, and to actively solicit student-faculty exchanges are available with the interaction icons, chat and audio tools, and even with the whiteboard tools, if the instructor chooses. Naturally, Confer is neutral with respect to student-faculty contacts outside of the Confer environment.
We could (and I hope to in future writings) continue down the list and ask ourselves whether or not the Confer environment favors good practice, as defined by each of the principles. I’m of the opinion that each of these principles can be reinforced in the Confer classroom, but that we have to find appropriate and effective ways of using the available tools. For example, is the audio tool (voice) the best one to encourage student-faculty contact? Not necessarily, according to research. Jennifer Hoffman and Zeina Nehme suggest that some students are more comfortable chatting than talking in the virtual classroom. And, since text chat can be saved, the instructor can go back later to answer questions or provide feedback to students even after the class session.
That’s the kind of thing I’ve been thinking about lately. What about you?
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