Is 7 the magic number…?

The seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education are a helpful starting point to think about how to encourage learning among student and how to technology can be used to the learning process. To refresh our memories, here they are again:

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

One quote in the 7-principles handout stood out for me: “These principles seem like good common sense, and they are — because many teachers and students have experienced them and because research supports them.” Hmm, the research supporting piece caught my immediate attention, and I decided to make this week’s post about finding some convincing evidence…

Starting point – Google. One of the first search results was rather interesting and somewhat confusing. Instead of finding the 7 principles of good practice in undergraduate education by Chickering and Ehrmann, I found a reference to this book: “How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.” by Susan Ambrose and colleagues. Although they stem from different sources, the principles highlighted by Ambrose and colleagues are similar to the ones developed by Chickering and Ehrmann.

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.
  2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.
  3. Student’s motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn.
  4. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned.
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning.
  6. Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.
  7. To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.

(The list is taken from a blog by Changing Higher Education) The blog author Lloyd Armstrong makes an interesting point. Many academics don’t know what research says about how to improve learning – including me. Some teaching practices  may seem intuitive, including the 7 principles of good practice in undergraduate education. But, how do we know they really work? The book by Ambrose and colleagues provides research evidence for each of their 7 principles on how and in which teaching environments they have shown to improve learning.

While I am continuing my search for research evidence on the 7 principles of good practice in undergraduate education, I find this reference:

Unfortunately, VCU doesn’t seem to have a subscription to this journal… Does anyone have this reference? Either way, I am going to utilize the VCU interlibrary loan service and will follow up on my post to report how convincing the research findings on the seven principles are.
To be continued…
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5 thoughts on “Is 7 the magic number…?

  1. Thanks for posting those links. I know that accounting has a journal dedicated to issues in learning. This journal is “Issues in Accounting Education”, and there is quite a bit of research in the journal about what has worked to improve learning and what has not.

    • Thanks, grad602. I am glad you shared this reference. In fact, I found an interesting article in the journal’s 1997 edition. Here is the reference: Holt, D. L., Michael, S. C., & Godfrey, J. T. (1997). The Case Against Cooperative Learning. Issues In Accounting Education, 12(1), 191-193. For example, the authors believe (among other things) that cooperative learning (e.g., group work) may result in inefficient allocation of time among students, possibly causing a reduction in knowledge…

  2. Great review of your learning process here…documenting where your search led you and how…I found that really helpful, thank you. I’ve taken a look at the Ambrose, et. al., book and never really made the connection b/t their 7 research-based principles and the Chickering & Gamson 7 Principles…and not that you mention it there is some interesting overlap there…is 7 really the magic number? Thanks for extending my thinking here…

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. The overall notion of the two sets of principles seemed similar to me when I first came across the Ambrose principles. Both sets focus on improving students’ learning experience. However, while Chickering & Gamson’s principles are more about what the teacher can do to encourage learning, Ambrose and colleagues’ approach may be more directed toward what the student can do to improve his/her own learning… So, maybe they are complementary rather than overlapping?

      • To the question of whether 7 is the magic number: Probably not. If we combined Ambrose’s principles with Chickering & Gamson’s principles (assuming we can truly argue that they are complementary as I suggested above), we would potentially have 14… Also, fewer than 7 principles may be enough to encourage learning in some situations. I guess, it all depends on the learning context.

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