“Best” Practices?

In a recent blog post releasing a (very nice!) infographic about “Best Practices in Using Twitter in the Classroom Infographic,” Rey Junco writes:

I’d like to point out that I’m a real stickler about using the term “best practices.” It’s a concept we toss around a lot in higher education. To me, a “best practice” is only something that has been supported by research. Alas, most of the time that we talk about “best practices” in higher ed, we’re focusing on what someone thinks is a “good idea.”

I agree and I’m even more of a stickler. There have been several specific situations in which I have been asked or encouraged to write a set of best practices for different things but I always got stuck asking myself: What makes this particular set of practices the “best?” I share Rey’s dislike of “good things I’ve done” being presented as best practices. But my (relatively minor) frustration extends a bit further because to me the adjective “best” implies comparison between different practices i.e. there is a (large) set of practices and this particular subset has been proven to be better than the rest.

I’d be perfectly happy if people were to stop telling us about best practices and just tell us about “good” practices until we have a large enough set of practices and data to judge which ones really are the best. If you’ve done good work, don’t distort or dishonor it by trying to make it bigger than it is. After all, even Chickering and Gamson (1987) presented their (now-classic and heavily-cited) ideas as “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” and not “Seven Best Practices in Undergraduate Education.”