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Center for Teaching Excellence

  • Professor with Student in Lecture Hall

Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

Chickering and Gamson (1987) have recommended seven different practices in undergraduate education to improve both teaching and learning. These key principles are based on 50 years of educational research and were compiled in a study supported by the American Association of Higher Education, the Education Commission of States and The Johnson Foundation. The way in which each principle is implemented may vary based on institutional setting, subject matter or student population.

Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the 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 and future plans.

Some tips:

  • Arrive to class early and stay after class for conversations or to assist students
  • Know students by name
  • Encourage students to drop by your office hours for extra help or just to visit
  • Hold student conferences during the semester
  • Seek out students who seem to be having problems with the course or are missing class frequently
  • Provide personalized feedback on student assignments and encourage students to visit office hours for further feedback or clarification
  • Advise a student group or team
  • Help students network with other faculty in their area of interest

Learning 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 one's own ideas and responding to others' reactions improves thinking and deepens understanding.

Some tips:

  • Engage in "ice breaker" as well as learning activities during the first class that encourage students to get to know one another
  • Give mini-lectures for 15-20 minutes interspersed with interactive activities
  • Create "learning communities," study groups, and team projects with individual accountability
  • Arrange the physical classroom environment, if possible, to better foster interaction

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.

Some tips:

  • Provide concrete, real-life scenarios to help students apply theoretical concepts
  • Provide application activities that go beyond topics or activities provided in the textbook
  • Ask questions frequently that require participation through discussion groups, response cards, polling or use of classroom response systems, learning partners, panels, or games
  • Encourage students to suggest new readings, projects or course activities
  • After providing test results, ask students what they will do differently next time
  • Provide a variety of options for completing projects and major assignments from which students can choose

Knowing what you know and don't know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses. In getting started, students need help in assessing existing knowledge and competence. In classes, students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement. At various points during college, and at the end, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how to assess themselves.

Some tips:

  • Return exams and papers within one week
  • Give frequent quizzes and homework assignments to help students monitor progress
  • Discuss results of assignments and exams with the class to provide opportunity for discussion or questions
  • Ask students to schedule conferences with you to discuss progress early on in the term
  • Have students keep a journal or record of their progress
  • Ask students to turn in drafts of their work to allow for feedback and revision
  • Provide concrete, constructive feedback related to both strengths and weaknesses of class assignments

Time plus energy equals learning. There is no substitute for time on task. Learning to use one's time well is critical for students and professionals alike. Students need help in learning effective time management. Allocating realistic amounts of time means effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty. How an institution defines time expectations for students, faculty, administrators, and other professional staff can establish the basis for high performance for all.

Some tips:

  • Clearly communicate the minimum amount of time that students should be spending outside of class with readings, assignments, and studying
  • Have set due dates for assignments
  • Require students to make up any missed work, but clearly indicate the late acceptance grading policy
  • Tell students that poor time management is one of the top reasons for lack of academic achievement
  • Encourage students to put important deadlines and exam dates for every class on a calendar that they refer to daily
  • Provide a weekly reading schedule and stress that it's easier to divide the readings up through the week than try to read all of it at one time
  • Encourage students to use their "dead time" for studying; take flashcards to study while waiting for the bus, for example
  • Model time management to students by being prepared, starting class on time, and returning work or exams as quickly as possible
  • Set realistic expectations based on the amount of time in the course; create assignments and readings relevant to learning, not just busy work to take up time

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 when teachers and institutions hold high expectations of themselves and make extra efforts.

Some tips:

  • Clarify course expectations orally and in writing at the beginning of the course
  • Explain to students the consequences of not completing work on time or missing class
  • Require revision of writing assignments and problem sets
  • Encourage students to put forth their best effort and work hard in class
  • Expect student participation
  • Make assignments interesting and relevant to the students
  • Refer students to the writing center, Student Success Center, or other areas for tutoring or additional help to assist them in meeting high expectations
  • Use sample questions in class and homework that are representative of what will be asked on exams
  • Provide many questions/problems on exams or homework that are worth small amounts each

There are many roads to learning. People bring different talents and styles of learning to college. Brilliant students in the seminar room may be all thumbs in the lab or art studio. Students rich in hands-on experience may not do so well with theory. Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learning in new ways that do not come so easily.

Some tips:

  • Use diverse teaching activities to address a broad spectrum of students
  • Within one lesson, utilize a variety of learning opportunities to engage as many ways of learning as possible (lecture, hands-on, visual, etc)
  • Provide extra materials or exercises for students who lack essential background knowledge/skills
  • Value every answer and find some relevance to encourage participation
  • Provide problems to solve that have multiple ways of finding the correct answer
  • Allow students some choices in fulfilling project requirements
  • Use collaborative techniques that pair students with lesser abilities with those with higher abilities


Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.