Guiding Principles for Teaching & Learning

The School of Professional & Continuing Studies has adopted the following guiding principles for teaching and learning. These principles stem from the mission, vision, values and strategic plan of the school while building on the University of Richmond’s liberal arts tradition.

SPCS embraces the liberal arts tradition to provide exemplary educational experiences for our students so that students get the best of high level theoretical insights from the cutting edge of their fields of study, while simultaneously understanding the real-world implications and practical application ideas to the professional setting and to their own lives as lifelong learners.

Research into teaching best practices suggests that no matter the format of a course, whether in person or online, effective learning environments combine innovative pedagogical techniques, collaborative learning in the development of a learning community, choice and voice of students, reflective teaching and learning, clear connections to students’ lives and the world-at-large, and relevant, up-to-date information.

Research also suggests that effective teaching and learning involves the combination of the cognitive and affective elements of the learning process. SPCS also prioritizes active learning as key to engaging coursework in all subjects.

In our increasingly intensifying globalized and technological world, SPCS prioritizes the interactivity that comes with highly personalized and connected learner-centered learning, where small class sizes facilitate strong student-faculty relationships, and where students get to know their classmates. These guiding principles arise from the mission, vision and values of SPCS and the University of Richmond’s strong liberal arts heritage.

We present these guiding principles to provide structure, guidance and support for effective teaching and learning in all formats and modalities, and to ensure that students gain the quality learning experiences across in-person, hybrid and online settings. We also provide resources and concrete guidance on strategies that effectively engage students in order to support teaching effectiveness and student achievement.

Our mission

We enrich lives and careers for the 21st century.

Our vision

We aspire to be an exemplar of continuing education for working professionals and lifelong learners in the Richmond region and a top choice for those seeking transformative learning experiences.

Our values

  • Care
  • Collaboration
  • Diversity
  • Excellence
  • Innovation
  • Integrity
  • Learning
  • Responsiveness

We apply our school’s mission, vision and values with the university’s longstanding tradition of liberal arts education to develop these guiding principles.

Guiding Principles

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  • 1. Engage the critical, ethical and global values of the liberal arts.

    What We Mean

    SPCS affirms that the critical, ethical and global values of the liberal arts enable meaningful learning and growth take place. Our liberal arts approach brings together theoretical insights with real-world applications. We emphasize critical thinking, including encouraging students to actively engage with subject matter in real, meaningful and concrete ways and to question assumptions, biases and ethical implications. It’s through this process of critical engagement that learners grow in intellectual and personal terms.

    The liberal arts emphasize flexibility, problem solving and collaboration, each of which are key to thriving in the increasingly globalized world. These are also attributes necessary across career fields and academic disciplines. Oral and written communication skills are interwoven throughout the liberal arts, and we take seriously the need to provide extensive opportunities for students to apply those skills in a variety of settings for a variety of purposes. Our approach emphasizes the importance of information and quantitative literacy and analysis in order to thrive in our changing, increasingly technological and intercultural world.

    What It Looks Like

    We offer these as examples of integrating Guiding Principle 1 in the classroom, but recognize there are many additional ways to integrate the values of a liberal arts education in teaching and learning.

    Active and engaging coursework and learning opportunities where students take an active role in co-creating knowledge. Students are fully engaged in class assignments, group discussion, collaborative work, making personal connections to the course content. 

    Relevance of course content to career aspirations and real-world application may include guest speakers who are leaders in their field and research on issues impacting the community as well as the student personally. 

    Cooperative learning with classmates that leads to critical thinking may include group work on co-selected and impactful research topics and presentations along with collaboration on practical solutions to real-world problems. 

    Student independence and choice may include student selection of project-based learning topics, formats and genres of presentations and performance-based products along with and development of authentic portfolios where students select exemplars of their learning. 

    Engagement in deep and reflective inquiry may include research papers, presentations, performance-based products, projects, real-world solutions in the field and reflective writing.

    Experiential, integrated and hands-on environments may include observing collecting and connecting examples in one’s community, neighborhood, and home to course content and student-created projects. 

    Authentic learning communities where learning is social and collaborative may include group discussion, group projects, group presentations, group research and group performative products.

    Appeal to multiple learning modalities, styles and approaches may include the use of video, music, movement, hands-on, verbal, visual, digital, and other elements across a course’s content and delivery choices.

    Appreciation of diversity may include general attitudes towards student differences as normal and desirable; flexibility for student choices in assignments, products, and readings; selective groupings to expand cultural competency opportunities for students; encouraging differences of position and opinion; and taking into account student differences when creating course content and assignments. 

    Ethical reasoning components may include ethical components to research projects, reflective writing with prompts that encourage ethical and normative aspects of course content, critical questioning of the status quo, social justice issues and structural barriers in society, lively debate over contentious issues, and opportunities to bring in student experiences as examples of ethical scenarios and real-world issues.

    Intercultural and global competency elements may include collaboration with students, guest speakers, and practitioners from different geographic, socio-economic, cultural, social, linguistic and political perspectives; exploration of topical issues unfamiliar to students; opportunities to co-construct knowledge with a diverse group of learners; and opportunities to communicate worldwide with digital platforms in authentic dialogue.

    Civic engagement may include collaboration, volunteering or other engagement with community members, civil society organizations and practitioners, government leaders and officials, and other stakeholders in an authentic manner.

  • 2. Develop learning communities through communication, assessment and feedback.

    What We Mean

    SPCS prioritizes the development of learning communities in courses and programs through effective communication, assessment and feedback in coursework. Our students receive high levels of interaction with our faculty and develop strong student-faculty relationships in communities of learning. Our learning communities build strong professional and personal connections that extend beyond the conclusion of a course or completion of a program of study.

    Our instructors provide detailed, meaningful and actionable feedback that informs students on their ongoing learning. Communication and collaboration are key to learning, and our SPCS faculty build strong connections with students to support lifelong learning. Students take a proactive role in their own learning, contributing meaningfully to the learning community with the thorough, clear and timely guidance of their instructors. 

    What It Looks Like

    We offer these as examples of integrating Guiding Principle 2 in the classroom, but recognize there are many additional ways to develop effective and thriving learning communities in teaching and learning.

    Meeting students where they are may include adapting course assignments to evaluate and address strengths and weaknesses of individual students, ongoing one-on-one communication with students with specific needs and skills, and differentiating expectations of the academic and social skills.

    Compassion and flexibility without losing rigor may include extending deadlines due to student personal issues and adapting assignments based on a student’s access to resources such as the internet, library or field experience locations. 

    Purposeful assessment and feedback from instructors that is timely, meaningful and informs students about progress toward learning goals and growth may include updating grade books on Blackboard regularly, providing specific and actionable written feedback on student work, offering verbal feedback through class discussion or one-on-one communication, sharing clear and detailed rubrics used for assessing major assignments, working with students to set learning goals and pre- and post-testing across a course. 

    Course design with student-centered instruction, universal design and ADA elements in mind may include adding closed captions for videos, providing asynchronous video lectures, offering flexible schedules for students to access course materials on their own time, offering online office hours, providing clear instructions for assignments, and recording Zoom meetings and discussions for students who are unavailable. 

    Growth mindset and life-long learning components may include reflective writing with personal goal setting, feedback tailored to individual personal and professional goals and developing a professional portfolio using exemplars from course assignments.

  • 3. Maintain high expectations of students and instructors.

    What We Mean

    SPCS maintains high expectations of students and faculty. Instructors at SPCS provide coursework that is engaging and rigorous, pushing students to stretch and grow intellectually and personally. Whether courses are offered in person or in a virtual environment, students can expect that coursework will be engaging, challenging, and relevant to the ever-changing contemporary world.

    SPCS courses provide high levels of interactivity among students and instructors and among students themselves. All members of the learning community contribute in meaningful and authentic ways to the co-construction of learning.

    What It Looks Like

    We offer these as examples of integrating Guiding Principle 3 in the classroom, but recognize there are many additional ways to maintain high expectations of instructors and students in teaching and learning.

    Teaching with compassion and flexibility in response to the lived experiences of students outside the classroom without sacrificing academic rigor.

    Maintaining high expectations for world class education from faculty and students that encourages all to strive for excellence and pushes learners toward higher levels of growth no matter the modality of instruction.

    Designing coursework to be highly active and intellectually engaging, including elements of universal design and ADA expectations, may include combining synchronous and asynchronous course materials, offering clear assignment instructions and course expectations, designing course elements that offer students differing perspectives, providing students opportunities to set and work toward learning goals, selecting and using course materials that reflect the state-of-the-art in the respective fields and disciplines, and providing opportunities for students to personalize and connect course materials to their own lives. 

    Designing classes in which learners are engaged and contribute to a collaborative learning community, participating fully in co-creating learning and curating knowledge. Examples may include assessing group work or projects by holding accountable all members of the collaborative grouping for their contributions, providing students opportunities to share perspectives and informed positions in a collegial, respectful and professional manner in class discussions and online discussion board, providing one-on-one consultation opportunities with instructors and through assigning journaling prompts and digital literacy projects.