Principles of Direct Instruction

Topic Progress:

The final three of the seven principles of effective teaching presence are related to direct instruction as described below.

Principle 5 – Sustain respect and responsibility.

The smooth functioning of an online community of inquiry is dependent upon students feeling that the community is a welcoming place where it is safe to make mistakes and to explore ideas and their consequences. As such, one of the most important responsibilities related to direct instruction is ensuring that the inquiry process is not derailed by ad hominem arguments or other non-productive posts. It is essential to maintain that ideas are subject to criticism while people are always treated with respect and dignity, even in the midst of disagreement.

The opposite problem may also hinder learning. Faculty should be aware for indications that strong personal connections are influencing objectivity. Sometimes, relationships can hinder learners from presenting strong challenges to their friends’ ideas.

A balanced approach should involve instructors being supportive of student learning yet expect students to be self-directed. If interpersonal conflicts arise (likely a rarity in asynchronous courses) the instructor should address those difficulties immediately and directly.

Principle 6 – Sustain inquiry that moves to resolution.

Garrison1 highlights the difficulty with ensuring that students in online courses reach the integration and resolution stages of the inquiry process. While a significant issue in resolving this is ensuring that learning activities are designed to promote integration and resolution, the other major factor has to do with ensuring adequate teaching presence, especially with respect to promoting cognitive presence.

The task of moving learners through all four phases of the inquiry process is the overriding goal of teaching activities in the cognitive domain of the community of inquiry. This involves diagnosing and addressing misconceptions, providing essential content in a timely manner and providing cognitive structure to the content when necessary.

The importance of addressing misconceptions was shown in the work of Derek Muller, who used video segments to teach students about concepts in physics. Muller administered a pre-test on the concepts and they scored 6/26 on average. When students were shown videos that explained the same concepts in a clear and concise manner, students became more confident in their knowledge, they reported that the videos were easy to understand, yet they still performed quite poorly on the test afterwards, the average score was 6.3/26.

Another group of students were shown videos which highlighted common misconceptions about physics concepts and also showed the correct understanding. Students found the videos difficult to understand and confusing, they said that they had to expend more mental effort to understand the concepts, they were less confident in their answers, and they scored an average of 11/26.

Muller posits that learning environments that do not address misconceptions lead to 5 outcomes:

  1. Students think that they know the material being presented.
  2. They don’t pay attention to the material.
  3. They don’t recognize that what was presented differs from what they were already thinking.
  4. They don’t learn anything.
  5. They get more confident in their previous incorrect ideas.

While all five of these outcomes are problematic, it is the first and third that are most closely relevant to students in asynchronous courses and the need to use high-level cognitive skills. Instructors in asynchronous courses should always work towards encouraging students to employ metacognitive strategies in their learning.

Metacognition is simply the process of thinking about your own thinking which allows for regulating your cognitive activities to maximize learning. Metacognition, sometimes called ‘reflection’, is short-circuited when students think that they know the content being presented. They feel free to let their thoughts wander and they miss the fact that the content being presented conflicts with their own preconceived ideas.

There are many strategies that can be implemented to encourage metacognitive reflections and one of them is the focus of your next post. The self-coding activity requires you to think about your contributions to the course in a systematic and structured way, and then to extend your learning by writing about your observations.

Principle 7 – Ensure assessment is congruent with intended processes and outcomes.

At the most basic level, assessment can be described as either formative or summative.

Formative assessments are those activities that are designed to diagnose and correct student misunderstandings, allowing them to improve. They are typically administered during a course and can be used to follow a student’s learning trajectory through a course or unit of study.

Summative assessments are designed to measure what a student has learned at the end of a course or unit of study. There is no effort to provide feedback to allow the student to improve. It is a simple measuring stick.

Clearly, learning in a community of inquiry should prioritize formative assessments as the goal of the learning experience should be to engage in learning activities, not just to pass a test.

Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes, and Garrison2 (pp. 82-83) list 8 principles of effective assessment feedback:

Good feedback:

  1. helps to clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, standards)
  2. facilitates the development of self-assessment and reflection in learning
  3. delivers high quality information to students about their learning
  4. encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning
  5. encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem
  6. provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance
  7. provides information to instructors that can be used to help shape teaching.

They also identify three different opportunities to provide feedback through self-, peer-, and instructor-assessment.

Self-assessments are typically reflective activities designed to activate metacognitive processes as described above. Peer-assessments, like a peer review activity, allow students to critique the work of another student and have the benefit of providing social support, stimulating metacognition, and providing alternate viewpoints that can benefit the reviewer. Instructor assessments in higher education are often limited to high-stakes summative assessments such as mid-term and final exams, but there are other strategies that can, and should, be implemented to increase the quality of assessment in higher ed.

One promising assessment practice involves the use of portfolios for both formative and summative assessment. Allowing students to demonstrate learning as a process, rather than the ability to perform in a high-stakes test, may mean that students be allowed to revise and resubmit assignments and then use their higher score towards their grade, but if we truly want to promote learning, then we ought to allow students to demonstrate just that.

Using digital tools (like WordPress) to facilitate instructor-based portfolio assessment also enables peer-, and self-assessment. This, in turn allows for assessment and feedback to be integrated throughout the learning experience rather than a somewhat disjointed series of high-stakes events.



  1. Garrison, D. R. (2011). E-learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.
  2. Vaughan, N., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Athabasca: AU Press. Retrieved from