Six Principles of University Teaching

Friends of OSU,

Last year I created a summary of the literature on cognition research, pedagogical research, professional portfolios, and intellectual coaching to create the Six Principles of University Teaching.   OSU Center for Teaching and Learning has been using this model of teaching excellence for a number of activities for faculty: creating teaching portfolios to supplement students’ ratings of instruction (for promotion and tenure); the observation of teaching; and specific sessions for departments.

These six principles are admittedly hefty in content.  Still they provide a solid outline for our professional growth as teachers.  Teaching excellence is a life time pursuit.  Even after over thirty years in teaching I still have lessons, that upon reflection, could have been stronger.  I wouldn’t recognize my need to improve a lesson without reflection…and the opportunity to try the lesson again.  This process of design, implement, reflect, and revise is so central to teaching improvement.  If teachers do not have the opportunity to teach that course again, as improved, we miss a valuable opportunity for growth. This is why it is important to assign faculty, early in their teaching careers, the same class to teach from quarter to quarter.

Should you have an interest in learning strategies for observing teaching, please consider joining our upcoming PLC called Teaching Triads.  Participants us  the Six Principles to guide the observation of teaching in a supportive environment. The hybrid PLC starts on February 3rd with an online module.  We are looking for two more people to join us so we can work in cross-disciplinary trios.

Here now for your reflection are the Six Principles of University Teaching for your use:

Six Principles of University Teaching


Principle #1: Consider the Audience

The instructor’s approach to learning is based on recent cognition research and understands how language competencies, physical abilities, cultures, communities, and social identity influence learners’ acquisition of knowledge and skills.  The instructor uses this knowledge to differentiate the curriculum: engaging students in equitable and positive classroom behaviors; designing valuable and relevant learning tasks; and clearly communicating academic expectations to learners. The instructor creates a learning environment that supports individual and collaborative learning by ensuring students feel accepted by the teacher and peers.


Principle #2: Plan

The instructor understands the central concepts, and structures of the discipline(s) he or she teaches and is able to plan for students’ development of knowledge over time. Instructors are able to identify where the courses s/he teaches fit into the program’s curriculum and uses this information to intentionally design courses to develop students’ knowledge and skills at the appropriate level of rigor. The instructor ensures alignment between course outcomes and course content, course content and the assessment tools.  Prior to teaching a course the instructor identifies the “critical points” in the course where students are most likely to struggle, and plans additional supports to help learners make accurate sense of the difficult content.


Principle #3: Enhance Engagement

The teacher works with others to create a positive and safe learning environment for all.  The instructor models and requires positive, respectful social interaction and clearly communicates academic expectations: homework is clearly relevant and at the appropriate level of difficulty; formative and summative assessments are designed to promote the students’ ability to communicate what they have learned.  The instructor connects course content to students’ prior knowledge and extends and refines students’ knowledge through authentic tasks, such as complex problem solving, critical discourse and civic activism.


Principle #4: Teach

Each class session, directly aligned to one or more course outcomes, begins with engaging attention getting openings that capture students’ interest. The instructor uses a variety of instructional strategies to enhance both individual and collaborative student engagement: engaging lectures are abbreviated; class sessions include small and/or whole group discussion; writing; cooperative learning: problem solving, think-pair-share; jigsaw, etc. Metaphors, analogies, stories, cooperative activities, technology and demonstrations are regularly incorporated into teaching to illustrate ideas and concepts.  Lessons close with a revisiting of the day’s lesson objective.


Principle #5: Assess

Academic expectations are clearly and consistently communicated to students. The instructor uses a variety assessment tools during the course to monitor learner progress and uses that data to adjust and pace the teaching of the course. Grading procedures are designed to accurately reflect students’ acquisition of key knowledge and skills developed during a course.  Summative (final) assessments are directly aligned to the content and skills taught and developed during the course (the course outcomes).


Principle #6: Reflect

The instructor engages in both formal and informal reflection about teaching effectiveness, particularly the effects of his/her choices and actions on others (learners, colleagues, and the community). Professional learning is evidence-based and informed by research. The instructor uses new knowledge and the scholarship of teaching to modify and adapt teaching practices. The instructor collaborates with colleagues in the continuous improvement of teaching practice.

Sagmiller, (2014). Six Principles of University Teaching.
Baiocco, S., DeWaters, J., (1998) Successful College Teaching, Needham Heights: Allyn & Bacon.
Costa, A., Garmston, R., (2002) Cognitive coaching, (2nd Edition) Boston, Massachusetts: Christopher-Gordon.
Costa, A., Kallick, B. (2008). Habits of mind: 16 essential characteristics of success. Alexandria: Association of supervision curriculum and curriculum development.
Knowles, M. Elwood, E.,Swanson, R. (2015). The adult learner: the definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (8th edition).  New York, New York: Routledge.
The Interstate teacher assessment and support consortium, (InTASC) (2014).
Model Core Teaching Standards, (2011). Council of Chief State School Offices.
North central regional educational laboratory, (1999). Professional Development: Learning from the best. Mid-continent research for education and learning.
Seldin, P., Higgerson, M., (2002). The administrative portfolio. Boston, Massachusetts: Anker publishing company.
Steinberg, L. (2014). Age of opportunity. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Return on Investment


What if a college instructor could appreciably increase the likelihood of the long-term well-being of a student by simply having a few conversations with the student?

Great Jobs Great Lives, the recently released 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index National Report, links the quality of one’s college experience with subsequent well-being and with workplace engagement. This report is an eye opener concerning the potential for wide-ranging consequences when college students feel supported by faculty.

Interestingly, the report finds that current well-being and workplace engagement of college graduates do not show a strong relationship with the colleges’ levels of selectivity, or public vs. private not-for-profit status.  However, among the random sample of 30,000 college graduates (bachelor’s degree or higher) interviewed nationally for this study, those who strongly agreed with any of the following three statements were approximately twice as likely to report that they are now engaged with their work and at least 50% more likely to report that they are thriving in all 5 key areas of well-being (purpose, social, financial, community and physical):

  • I had at least one professor at [College] who made me excited about learning.
  • My professors at [College] cared about me as a person. 
  • I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams. 

Wow! Yes, wow!

Notably, none of these three practices costs even a dollar, and none of them requires adopting new technology, upgrading infrastructure or implementing new curricula. None of these practices takes a new state law or federal regulation; none of them requires a university-wide initiative. These three practices only require educators to effectively communicate their excitement about learning, their care for students as people, and their encouragement for students to pursue personal goals and dreams.

The Gallup-Purdue report strongly suggests that a comparatively small personal investment by faculty to nurture today’s college students could have a huge societal return. Kudos to those of you who already make this investment in your students as part of your regular teaching practice. We would all do well to remind our teaching colleagues how meaningful their work is in shaping the future well-being of their students.

There is much more to glean from Great Jobs Great Lives; check it out!

Student Tech

The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac 2013 was published this week, complete with insights from the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research’s annual survey of college students and IT.  This year’s survey collected data between February and April from 112,000 students at 251 institutions.  Five interesting findings:


  • What device do the most students own?  Smartphone?  Tablet?  No, 89% of students own laptops, 75% own smartphones, and only 30% own iPads and other tablets.  Notably, though, the percentage of students who own tablets has doubled in each of the last two years, whereas student smartphone ownership is growing more slowly, and laptop ownership is static.
  • And what device do students say is most important to their academic success?  Once again, the humble laptop is rated #1, with 91% of students reporting that it is very or extremely important to their academic success.  The desktop computer (yes, the desktop!) is second at 62%, while smartphones and tablets trail at 48% and 44% respectively.
  • How about e-books?  Almost three-fourths (74%) of the students say they’ve used e-books (including e-textbooks) in their courses in the past year.  But of the students who used e-books, almost half (47%) report they only used e-books in only one course.
  • What tools do students wish their instructors used more?  Lecture capture, learning management systems, integrated use of laptops during class, and online collaboration each garnered the vote of at least 3 out of 5 students.
  • And the flip side?  Half of the students wished their instructors used e-portfolios less.  Of the 10 tools mentioned in this question, the e-portfolio was the only one for which “use less” outpolled “use more,” and it was by a 2-to-1 margin!

What tech trends do you see in your classes?  What are students telling you about teaching and learning tools?