What you need to know
Educational principles can be a vital element of any strategy for learning, teaching and assessment.
Principles are a way of articulating your shared educational values as a college or university. They also provide a benchmark against which everyone can check their progress towards your organisation’s strategic mission for enhanced learning, teaching and assessment.
As a result, a set of principles is often built into organisational strategies.
Why principles matter
Principles of good practice unite all staff – academics, tutors, learning technologists, support staff as well as those responsible for quality assurance and administration – in working together towards a common goal.
Professor David Nicol argues that principles:
- Provide a common language
- Provide a reference point for evaluating change in the quality of educational provision
- Summarise and simplify the research evidence for those who don't have time to read all the research literature
- Help put important ideas into operation
Where improvement is required, having such benchmarks of good practice can help you move forward with common agreement on what is fundamentally important.
And, as the basics of good pedagogy are not always widely understood, adopting or writing your own set of principles can also be an effective way of communicating your mission. Activities based around defining principles can also help staff envisage where digital technologies can make a difference.
What the experts say
“Principles capture an important idea while at the same time they point to implementation. For example, good feedback practice should 'encourage interaction and dialogue around learning' captures the idea that feedback is a dialogical process and suggests that this should be encouraged by teachers through their task or course designs.”
David Nicol, emeritus professor of higher education, University of Strathclyde
Read more in 'why use assessment and feedback principles?' from Strathclyde's Re-Engineering Assessment Practices (REAP) project.
Be inspired: case studies
Glasgow Caledonian University – setting principles for curriculum design
Glasgow Caledonian University links its approach to curriculum design to a clear set of principles which are defined in the university’s strategy for learning 2015-2020. The eight curriculum design principles are embedded across all programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate level.
“[Our] strategy for learning has been developed through a consultative process with staff, students, college partners and employers and is informed by international and national developments and effective practice in learning, teaching and assessment.”
Glasgow Caledonian University strategy for learning 2015-2020
Sheffield Hallam University – looking through different lenses
Sheffield Hallam University has developed a number of ‘design lenses’ for topics to consider when designing good learning and teaching practice. The lenses have been captured on a series of cards for use in learning design activities.
View the resources below:
Activate Learning – a learning philosophy for further education
Activate Learning is an education and training group based in Oxfordshire and Berkshire. The Group places a high value on its philosophy for learning which is designed to help staff understand better what will work for them and their students. A robust, up-to-date digital environment is seen as an important means of putting the philosophy into action.
“Helping our students learn and achieve their best is at the heart of everything we do. We have developed a unique learning philosophy focused on brain, emotions and motivation to empower our learners on their journey to success.”
- Adapt the Glasgow Caledonian University Curriculum Development template for your context
- View the Queen's University Belfast cards, which link its assessment principles to a range of technologies
- View Activate Learning’s learning cycle and try out a short module on its application
- Nicol, D. (2007), principles of good assessment and feedback: theory and practice
- Russell, M. and Davies, S. (2011), some principles relating to effective assessment and feedback