High Impact Educational Practices

In his recent AACU publication “High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them and why they matter” noted education scholar George Kuh summarizes the research literature on higher ed practices that increase student retention, engagement and deep learning. Evidence suggests that these practices are beneficial for students from widely varying backgrounds. The good news is that we are already implementing many of these ideas. The question is, how can we do more and do it better? Although Kuh’s research focused on undergraduates, many of these ideas are equally appropriate for graduate programs. There’s something here for everyone – which of these practices would YOU like to get more involved with?

First-Year Seminars and Experiences
“The highest-quality 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” (Kuh, 2008, p. 9). Our DISCOVER 101 seminars are already showing a positive impact on student retention – where can we build on this foundation to improve both semesters for first year students and extend into the sophomore year experience?

Common Intellectual Experiences
These go beyond the idea of the core curriculum and focus on thematic instruction, linked common courses, integrative studies courses and curricular/co-curricular partnerships. How can graduate cohort programs take more advantage of their linked courses? We have some beginning projects here and our new strategic plan talks about campus themes – how can we make this happen widely?

Learning Communities
Learning communities help students begin to “live” the learning; taking at least two common courses that link across disciplines. Learning communities may or may not feature a residential component. Frequently learning communities focus on a broad theme and explore it from various disciplinary perspectives and also extensive out of class collaboration such as service learning or other projects. Presently, Marymount also has a couple of disciplinary-based residential communities (Women in Science and Men & Women in Business). How can we create vibrant cross-disciplinary communities? How can we help faculty connect with colleagues in other disciplines to facilitate the growth of learning communities?

Writing-Intensive Courses
We will be implementing WI courses next year. However, the skills and attitudes fostered in these courses will need to be sustained through writing across the curriculum as well. All faculty need to start thinking of themselves and their courses as opportunities for student writing. What do you need to get started or develop your expertise in helping students write effectively?

Collaborative Assignments and Projects
Working with others and learning from others, especially others who are different from ourselves, is a necessary skill in most work environments, contributes to successful lifelong learning and growth and can also build a sense of community. Collaboration can be as basic as requiring study groups within a course or as complex as joint research or artistic ventures. How much collaborative work goes on at MU right now? How do we prepare students to be successful collaborators? How do we design collaborative assignments that work?

Undergraduate Research
Although it is still most common in the sciences and social sciences, undergraduate research is spreading throughout the disciplines. Inquiry teaching is one form of preparation for more independent undergraduate scholarship. The overarching goal of the DISCOVER program is to engage as many of our undergraduates as possible in some form of inquiry-based learning and research. When students actively engage with important, unanswered questions along with peers and professors, they are more likely to persist and learn more deeply. What else can we do to expand the availability and quality of undergraduate research, scholarship and creativity?

Diversity/Global Learning
Intercultural studies is more than spending time abroad or taking a course! One of our strategic plan goals is to expand our students’ global perspective, our core curriculum has a global perspective course requirement and our Global Studies office is eager to support faculty and student study abroad. We also are blessed with a diverse campus – how can we put all these pieces together to develop a more comprehensive approach?

Service Learning, Community-Based Learning
These programs go beyond volunteering or the provision of services to the “needy” to develop true partnerships that are mutually beneficial. The goal of community-based learning is to give students concrete experiences that mirror what they are learning in the classroom plus the experience of applying disciplinary knowledge to a real world problem. At its best, community-based learning offers the opportunity for students to experience, analyze and reflect on their learning. It also can develop a sense of engaged citizenship. While we have some excellent community outreach programs in the School of Health Professions, community-based learning is not widely practiced at Marymount. It is a natural fit with our Mission, Strategic Plan and values. How can we develop effective courses and programs that integrate coursework and community action?

Required, credit-bearing internships have long been part of a Marymount education. How can we make sure that our internships are academically rigorous, tied to strong outcomes and linked to the students’ major and career goals? Where can we improve this program?

Capstone Courses and Projects
Whatever they are called, a culminating experience requires students to integrate and apply their learning to a project that is important to them. Depending on the discipline, this can be a performance or exhibition, a research or service project, or a paper. Great capstone experiences allow students to see how far they have come since they started their programs and also can give us the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments with them. How can we raise the profile of capstone experiences, celebrate them and use them to inspire and motivate less advanced students?

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them and why they matter. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Colleges & Universities.