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Bonk's Last Principles of Instruction: A Baker's Dozen Plus One More...
Monday, May 16, 2011
I have a colleague here at Indiana University (IU) who asked me for some of my teaching tips yesterday. We chatted on several of them over tea and a bagel at Panera. After reflecting on her question for a day, I just sent her the following 10 teaching tips. When combined they might help others...perhaps.

Keep in mind that these are off the top of my head. Also note that they are also more focused on higher education teaching and adult learning than K-12, though many principles can be directly used or at least adapted for younger learners.

Bonk's Last Principles of Teaching/Instruction (I just made these up…therefore, they might just be called “Bonk.” Why "last?" Well, since David Merrill has his "First Principles of Instruction," and I am a former accountant, I will go with the LIFO (Last In, First Out) method. Hence, I will call these "Bonk's Last Principles of Instruction"). Of course, there is much overlap with what Merrill and others have suggested (see one of Merrill's relevant papers).

And, before you start critiquing these, please keep in mind, I am just giving advice to a friend and colleague. I am not saying that there is research to back up any of these. These are simply things I do that I am suggesting others might consider or build upon. After spending some time writing these up, I thought I might post it.

1. The Principle of Flexibility. e.g.,
a. Have multiple due dates (have the papers due the week before you want them and the week you originally planned--2 due dates (they pick which to get it in by). This way you seem flexible and open but are in actually being tougher on them and they do not even know it).

b. Give students 2 days or 3 days to turn in papers (e.g., Monday May 30th or Tuesday May 31st; or Friday June 3rd or Saturday June 4th or Sunday June 5th). If you are not planning to grade them for a few days or will be at a conference later that week, who cares what the due date actually is? You seem flexible and open, when, in fact, you are just giving yourself a sanity break. Smile.

c. Have a 24 hour lateness policy or 48 hour (one class I use 24 hour and another one I use 48—no assignment is late if you turn it in within 24 hours of the assignment due date. This is a huge relief for students). Be less concerned about the consequences of being late and place more emphasis on the fact that the goal is to get their papers in on time and of a high quality. In effect, you are working with them. The goal is high quality work and you are going to help them where possible by being flexible. Sure you can and should take points off for lateness, but that is not the primary factor within your system.

d. Have a weekly or daily agenda with set items but allow students interests and concerns to determine the order in which you go through it. You might go in reverse order or skip many items and come back to them the following week.

2. The Principle of Convenience. e.g.,
a. Have multiple mechanisms for student communication and turning in of assignments. Allow students to turn in their papers through the course management system, via fax or email, dropping it off at your house, sliding it under your office door, or some other way.

b. Record your class for those who cannot make it (e.g., podcast, webstream, etc.).

c. Change the time of the class if more than a few students will be out of town or at a conference that week. Or if there is an outbreak of H1N1 or tornadoes or floods, your class might be rescheduled or put online for a week or two (i.e., try blended learning).

d. Before you schedule a face-to-face class, ask your students when you should teach the course and in what format(s).

3. The Principle of Collegiality. e.g.,
a. Go to sessions at conferences with your students. Introduce to colleagues. Bring colleagues and visiting scholars into your class for conversations. Introduce your students as your colleagues. Tell them some personal stories about your academic or professional life.

b. Ask your students to share articles with you and vice versa. Show them that you are learning along with them. If they cite an interesting article that you did not know about, ask them for a copy of it or a link to it.

c. Help turn student papers into publications.

d. Take the class to dinner, order pizza, etc. For online class, share coupons you might have found in Amazon perhaps.

4. The Principle of Cheerfulness and Optimism. e.g.,
a. Find the optimistic side of life. Students want positive feedback on papers before critique. Start with a positive, however minor it might be. Then move to ares of potential improvement.

b. Tell your students that they can do better and you know it and they know it. But smile at them when you do so. In effect, you are nudging them forward toward times, without them knowing it. In part, it happens with your knowing smile, winks, and grins. They do not want anyone who smiles and winks at them down.

c. Be happy for their accomplishments. Celebrate them.

d. Laugh. Smile. Nod your head in agreement. Make jokes that relate to the class (of course, sometimes they might not totally relate but usually they will).

5. The Principle of High Expectations. e.g.,
a. Post high quality work from previous semesters. Or bring back prior students to discuss their products. Each time, set the bar higher.

b. Tell them it will be a lot of work but you will support them to reach for the stars. That is what good teachers do, challenge and support. Challenge students with high goals or difficult or complex projects and then find ways to help them succeed. Online job aids, support systems, peer mentoring, etc., are all useful.

c. Mention how students used their final projects last time for conference presentations or publications.

d. Say some people enrolled in this course have done this or that important thing in the past. And then you welcome them to do the same in your class.

6. The Principle of Choice and Options. e.g.,
a. Have 5-10 options for midterm or final assignments. And examples of prior accomplishments.

b. Might have 3 papers due during the course and give 6-10 options. Have them choose a different option each time.

c. Let them decide if they want to do a group final paper or product or a solo/individual one. If you want a group project, say that or emphasize that but leave the individual project as an option.

d. Let them sign up to be a cool resource provider or discussion moderator for the week that appeals to them. Their findings or shared resources can be used the next time you teach that course.

7. The Principle of Empowerment and Autonomy. e.g.,
a. Have them create something for a wider audience. Build products. Design something. Put in an online gallery.

b. Have them pick the class agenda from 2 or 3 optional ones. They might check off the option that they prefer as they walk into class.

c. Negotiate the syllabus or agenda in a wiki. My colleague, Dr. Ron Owston, at York University in Toronto does this sometimes.

d. Have students do final presentations of what they learned in the course. This might be a movie night of short 5-10 minute long YouTube or other shared online video presentations, Prezi presentations, role plays, etc., that summarize their learning in the course.

8. The Principle of Support and Feedback. e.g.,
a. Give extensive feedback on papers.

b. Send the feedback back as soon as possible. If you have distance students, you might scan the papers as a PDF and send back. (or mark right on them in Word.)

c. Build in critical friend or some type of peer feedback; especially in weekly writing such as blog postings.

d. If you are getting the same questions over and over, you might offer summary feedback in the course management system or via email.

9. The Principle of Spontaneity. e.g.,
a. Try stuff out. See what works. Do not just go through the motions. Lately, in my R546 class on instructional strategies class on Saturday mornings in the spring, I have tried to be like Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poets Society.

b. Ask your students at break time how the class is going (formative feedback) and change it based on their responses.

c. Combine ideas that you have tried before. Do them in reverse.

d. Debrief on anything new that you tried and ask for feedback.

10. The Principle of Organization. e.g.,
a. Have an agenda and share it ahead of time. You might send it directly to your students via email or bring copies to class. You do not need to go through it all. Post instructor notes, PowerPoint slides, and other resources to the course management system prior to meeting.

b. Have a syllabus prepared at least 1 or 2 months in advance, where possible. Or you might use a shell or skeleton of one. A just-in-time syllabus (JiTS) or just-in-time-teaching (JiTT) can break you out of the same old thing. But it also provides a base from which to build. This works great for courses with interesting articles, videos, or happenings in the news on a daily basis, such as psychology, economics, sociology, education, etc.

c. Call guest speakers well in advance of their date of appearance. Keep in contact with them. Arrange their appearance, share their bio, test the technology if they are to appear virtually. And thank them when done.

d. Arrange the order and topic of final project presentations weeks in advance. Such organization will reduce the tension surrounding these course tasks.

As I said, I hope these help others think about their teaching. I could give you 10 totally different ones if you want. Ok, below are 4 more.

11. The Principle of Sharing. e.g.,
a. Always share your notes, ideas, resources, etc. with students, colleagues, prospective students, those writing your email requests, etc. Share everything you can share. Two years ago, I wrote an article for eLearn Magazine recently on 30 reasons to share online contents. Also the upcoming prequel in the paperback version of my "The World is Open" book is entitled, "Sharing...the Journey." Suffice to say, anyone teaching today should believe in the power of sharing.

b. Place your syllabi and course materials online. You can then refer to them later and get feedback on them. I have done that with some of my classes (see syllabi, both old and new).

c. Share new ideas and resources that emerge in your course management system as they arise during the class.

d. Share student work in a project gallery or Website.

12. The Principle of Nontraditional Learning. e.g.,
a. Send your course to other sites using videoconferencing or Web conferencing.

b. Have students work on joint projects or products with those from other universities.

c. Move your class or activity to an outdoor classroom or the hallway. Be anywhere except in the classroom to which you were assigned. Break out!

d. Extend your class to online conferences, e-books and online articles, virtual mentoring, etc. Take your students to guest lectures on campus or at other locations.

13. The Principle of Passion and Inspiration. e.g.,
a. Relate the course content to personal interests and stories. Students can learn much from your experiences and insights.

b. Link the course to items that excite you in the news that week or day.

c. Bring in as guests and experts, people who inspire you and explain why that is.

d. If a topic or idea has you excited or motivated to learn more, let your students know.

14. The Principle of Relevance and Meaningfulness. e.g.,
a. Embed projects and tasks that students can immediately (or later) use in their job settings. They will likely get additional respect and responsibility from it; hence, you will have impacted the local or world community.

b. Brainstorm lists of possible projects or topic areas that interest your students. Post them online or on the wall and extend the discussion about each of them. Then allow students to select from them.

c. Create theme or interest areas and find out who is interested in a particular topic. Form group tasks or assignments around such interests.

d. Cycle back to previous topics or assignments. Recursively build on tasks from initial thought papers to full blown technical reports, book chapters, or even books.

Ok, those are the 14 Bonkian Last Principles of Instruction (at least for tonight; tomorrow they might be totally different). Alas, I think that is enough for now though I am sure that there are dozens more I could list if I had another hour or two. And I am also certain that most of those reading this post are doing most or all 14 principles. However, keep in mind that there are degrees or evolutionary stages, steps, or phases within each one. So Stage 1 meaningfulness might be totally different from Stages 2 or 3 or 4.

For instance, there is flexibility built into one’s schedule (i.e., Stage 1: Mechanical Flexibility) and then there is flexibility built into one’s persona (Stage 3 or 4: Human Personalization Flexibility...I just made up this example to exemplify the point). At upper stages of instructional evolution, every decision you make would exemplify that principle. You would be living and breathing it.

Suffice to say, the goal is not checking these off a teaching list and saying that one is successful since he or she is doing this or that principle. The goal is to evolve within a set of instructional stages or personal developmental levels within teaching. We should all be pushing toward the edges of the teaching spectrum. Effective instructors challenge and support students in those challenges...that is all we can do. And if teaching online, we are concierges as I have stated a few years ago in a blog post.

Again, the above list was created for a friend. They are based on my experience teaching face-to-face, blended, fully online, and via videoconferencing. There is no research behind these "Last Principles," unlike Merrill's First Principles. Start with those First Priniciples (like his 2002 article). Use my ideas LAST, if ever. Smile. If you are hitting the wall and all else is failing, ok use them. Then, you too can be Bonked.

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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