IMPLEMENTING THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES: Technology as Lever

by Arthur W. Chickering and Stephen C. Ehrmann

 



Citation: The article originally appeared in print as:
Chickering, Arthur and Stephen C. Ehrmann (1996), "Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever," AAHE Bulletin, October, pp.  3-6. 

1. 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 and plans.

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 responsibilities.

The biggest 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).

Now, however, 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.

 

2. Good Practice Develops Reciprocity and Cooperation Among Students
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 ideas and responding to others’ improves thinking and deepens understanding.

 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 today’s busy commuting students is that it opens up communication among classmates even when they are not physically together

 

3. 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.

We’ve 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:

  • Supporting 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.
  • Simulating 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.
  • Helping students 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.

4. Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback
Knowing what you know and don’t 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.

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.

As we move toward portfolio evaluation strategies, computers can provide rich storage and easy access to student products and performances.

 

5. Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task
Time plus energy equals learning. Learning to use one’s time well is critical for students and professionals alike. Allocating realistic amounts of time means effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty.

 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.

For faculty members interested in classroom research, computers can record student participation and interaction and help document student time on task, especially as related to student performance

 

6. 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.

New 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.

 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.

 

7. 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.

Technological 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 don’t. 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.