High-Impact Practices (HIPs) are specific learning experiences that can have a high impact on students’ engagement and retention. These practices have been researched and tested in the field of higher education (Kuh, 2008). Successful HIPs engage students in a range of activities in which they interact with faculty and peers, experience diversity, focus on reflection and feedback, and participate in real-world applications. In addition, high-impact practices are closely tied to higher order learning opportunities in which students are fully engaged in their learning by analyzing, synthesizing, and creating new ideas and concepts of what they learn in and out of the classroom (Stephen F. Austin State University, 2014).
The LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) initiative of the Association of American Colleges & Universities identifies ten high-impact educational practices that have been shown to improve academic performance (LEAP, n.d.). The ten practices are described below followed by a representation of how these practices are being implemented at NIU.
First-Year Seminars and Experiences
“First-year experiences place a strong emphasis on critical inquiry, frequent writing, information literacy, collaborative learning, and other skills that develop students’ intellectual and practical competencies” (LEAP, n.d.).
- NIU’s First- and Second-Year Experience (FSYE) helps freshmen, sophomores, and transfer students by implementing and supporting programming that ensures student academic, personal, social, and career success
Common Intellectual Experiences
Students enroll in “a set of required common courses or [in] a vertically organized general education program that includes advanced integrative studies and/or required participation in a learning community” (LEAP, n.d.).
- NIU’s Common Reading Experience as part of UNIV 101/201, typically explore universal themes of identity, gender, race, ethnicity, and civic responsibility that contribute to students’ academic and social development
- Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability & Energy (ESE) fosters interdisciplinary research, education, and community engagement to promote understanding of the environment and the development of creative and effective solutions to environmental and sustainability issues
“Students take two or more linked courses as a group and work closely with one another and with their professors. Many learning communities explore a common topic and/or common readings through the lenses of different disciplines” (LEAP, n.d.).
- Themed Learning Communities consist of two or three interdisciplinary courses taken in conjunction to analyze themes and connections for an integrative learning experience
- Living Learning Communities are part of the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management — the goal is to strengthen connections between students and faculty within their course of study
“These courses emphasize writing at all levels of instruction and across the curriculum, including final-year projects. Students are encouraged to produce and revise various forms of writing for different audiences in different disciplines” (LEAP, n.d.).
- Writing Across the Curriculum is a pedagogical movement based on the premise that students learn critical thinking best when they actively engage in the subject matter of a course through writing
- NIU’s Writing Across the Curriculum and the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center co-sponsor Designing a Writing-Enhanced Course, which is offered each May as a day-long workshop for faculty to incorporate writing and critical thinking into their courses
Collaborative Assignments and Projects
“Collaborative learning combines two key goals: learning to work and solve problems in the company of others, and sharpening one’s own understanding by listening seriously to the insights of others, especially those with different backgrounds and life experiences” (LEAP, n.d.).
- The Course Transformation Project, part of the Vision 2020 initiative, assisted faculty with transforming courses to enable students to learn in challenging and diverse environments
- The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center’s Teaching with Blackboard site offers faculty and staff resources on how to build communication and collaboration into courses
“The goal is to involve students [from all disciplines] with actively contested questions, empirical observation, cutting-edge technologies, and the sense of excitement that comes from working to answer important questions” (LEAP, n.d.).
- Research Rookies links undergraduate first-year, sophomore, and transfer students with faculty mentors in their major or area of interest to conduct small-scale research projects
- Undergraduate Special Opportunities in Artistry & Research program (USOAR) is a program for students from all colleges, departments, and majors that funds student-generated research projects on campus, somewhere else in the United States, or overseas
Diversity and Global Learning
“[The emphasis is on] courses and programs that help students explore cultures, life experiences, and worldviews different from their own, [which often] are augmented by experiential learning in the community and/ or by study abroad” (LEAP, n.d.).
- NIU Study Abroad program provides students from any major opportunities to study short-term (10 days) to a full academic year in 75 different countries
- NIU offers curricular studies that focus on different ethnicities, gender identity, and other cultures. Also, there are credit and non-credit programs and activities that promote inclusive awareness and appreciation of diversity.
- International Education Week, an annual event that celebrates international education at NIU, is November 17-21, 2014
Service Learning and Community-Based Learning
Students participate in “field-based ‘experiential learning’ with community partners [as] an instructional strategy—and often a required part of the course. The idea is to give students direct experience with issues they are studying in the curriculum and with ongoing efforts to analyze and solve problems in the community” (LEAP, n.d.).
- Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning (OSEEL) gets students involved with the community through service programs
- Several colleges, departments, and units include experiential-, service-, and community-based learning experiences including the College of Business, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Digital Convergence Lab
Internships “provide students with direct experience in a work setting—usually related to their career interests—and give them the benefit of supervision and coaching from professionals in the field” (LEAP, n.d.).
- NIU Career Services offers many resources (Huskies Get Hired!) and events to connect students with internship and co-op opportunities in order to gain real-world experiences
- Many departments require and/ or make available direct work experiences to students before they graduate
Capstone Courses and Projects
“These culminating experiences require students nearing the end of their college years to create a project of some sort that integrates and applies what they’ve learned” (LEAP, n.d.).
- Many departments include capstone courses and projects as part of their curriculum such as the Comprehensive Exam-Portfolio from the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment in the College of Education. Included in this high-impact practice are portfolios, which are valuable at many stages of a student’s academic career.
- NIU’s campus-wide electronic portfolio (ePortfolio) initiative supports and connects students by integrating general education and baccalaureate goals with authentic assessment and career preparation
Although HIPs are not new practices to higher education in and of themselves, bringing them together under the umbrella of high-impact practices allows faculty and students to easily select characteristics within those practices that best meets the need of academic goals. When successfully implemented, high-impact practices affect students in meaningful ways www.sfasu.edu:
- Students spend considerable amounts of time on meaningful tasks
- Faculty and student peers interact about substantive matters
- Students experience diversity through contact with people who are different than themselves
- Students receive frequent performance feedback
- Activities have applications to different settings on and off campus
- Authentic connections are made with peers, faculty, community, and/ or the university
If you are interested in learning more about high-impact practices, plan on attending one or both workshops of the Spring 2015 Teaching Effectiveness Institute on Thursday, January 8, 2015. In the morning session, NIU faculty will share some of the high-impact practices they have implemented in their courses. During the afternoon session, we will focus specifically on Portfolios and how they can impact student career success.
Association of American Colleges & Universities (n.d.). About LEAP. Retrieved from http://www.aacu.org/leap
Kuh, George D. (2008). High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access To Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from https://keycenter.unca.edu/sites/default/files/aacu_high_impact_2008_final.pdf
LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) (n.d.). High-impact educational practices. Retrieved from http://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/hip_tables.pdf
Stephen F. Austin State University, Office of High-Impact Practices (2014). Retrieved from http://www.sfasu.edu/hip/