Kennesaw State University

Getting HIP: Understanding the How and Why of High-Impact Educational Practices

By Stephanie Foote

High-impact practices (HIPs) are “teaching and learning practices that have been widely tested and have been shown to be beneficial for college students from many backgrounds” (AAC&U, 2013, n. p.).  These practices have been proven to contribute to student engagement, deep learning, persistence, and overall academic success.

What are High-Impact Practices (HIPs)?

HIPs often engage students in direct experiences that extend beyond the classroom and occur over a period of time, which can result in gains in learning and personal development outcomes (Brownell & Swaner, 2010; Kuh, 2008; Zhao, Kuh, & Carini, 2005).  The “magic” of HIPs can be attributed to the ways in which students both apply what they have learned and how they reflect on or make meaning of their learning and development, which often contributes to metacognitive gains (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010).  Kuh (2008) identified six student behaviors that HIPs induce: 1) Investing time and effort; 2) Interacting with faculty and peers; 3) Experiencing diversity; 4) Responding to more frequent feedback; 5) Reflecting and integrating learning; 6) Discovering relevance of real-world learning in real-world applications (p. 14-17). 

The outcomes and benefits from participation in HIPs are wide-reaching and include gains in student persistence and GPA, increases in critical thinking and writing, greater appreciation for diversity, and enhanced student engagement (Brownell & Swaner, 2010; Kuh, 2008; Kinzie, 2012).  While existing research indicates all students can benefit from participation in HIPs (Brownell & Swaner, 2010), the outcomes associated with HIPs participation among underserved student populations are greater than those of their majority peers (Finley & McNair, 2013). 

Engaging students experientially or in practices that emphasize “learning by doing” can provide opportunities to make classroom learning real and relevant through the application of new knowledge in a real world setting (Neill, 2006), while encouraging students to make meaning of and reflect on those experiences (Jeffs & Smith, 2005; Kolb, 1984).  Although there are many activities and practices that provide experiential learning opportunities, HIPs can serve as a vehicle for experiential learning to occur.  The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U, 2008) has identified 10 practices that have been found to be beneficial, in most instances, to student learning, persistence, and engagement (Kuh, 2008).  Following is the list of HIPs and a brief description of quality characteristics associated with each HIP (“KSU HIP Characteristics,” 2014):

  • First-Year Seminars and Experiences
    • Quality characteristics: Engages students with their peers and faculty in small groups and emphasize critical inquiry, writing, research, and collaborative learning (Kinzie, 2012).
  • Common Intellectual Experiences
    • Quality characteristics: Intentionally organized general education, core, or common learning experience (e.g., common reader/reading program) that is integrative and involves all students. 
  • Learning Communities
    • Quality characteristics: Integrates themes, ideas, and assignments across two or more academic courses and provides opportunities for students to interact with faculty and their peers in- and outside of the classroom (Laufgraben, 2005; Lichtenstein, 2005).
  • Writing-Intensive Courses
    • Quality characteristics: Provides opportunities to write at various levels across and across the curriculum (Kinzie, 2012).
  • Collaborative Assignments and Projects
    • Quality characteristics: Engages students in groups or pairs with the goal of increasing personal understanding through exposure to diverse perspectives.
  • Undergraduate Research
    • Quality characteristics: Involves students in the process of inquiry and discovery generally in collaboration with a faculty mentor (Council on Undergraduate Research, n.d.).
  • Diversity/Global Learning
    • Quality characteristics: Exposes students to cultural, racial, ethnic, and gender differences that may include a study abroad experience.
  • Service Learning, Community-Based Learning
    • Quality characteristics: Involves students in the community to solve “real” problems or issues and generally includes a personal reflective component, particularly in service learning experiences (Gallini & Moely, 2003).
  • Internships
    • Quality characteristics: Direct experience working in a field or area related to their academic major or career aspirations and with interaction from professionals working in that area.
  • Capstone Courses and Projects
    • Quality characteristics: Culminating project, paper, or experience that often integrates learning across the lifespan of the student’s undergraduate career.

Creating High-Impact Experiences

While HIPs can provide students with significant opportunities for development, student engagement and learning can also be positively influenced through high-impact pedagogical practices that draw from the essence of HIPs to enhance student learning around the six student behaviors previously described (Kuh, 2008).  Kinzie (2012) suggests faculty and staff focus on involving students in several “educationally purposeful activities” that have been proven to increase student engagement, including: 1) Asking questions or contributing to class discussions; 2) Making a class presentation; 3) Preparing two or more drafts of a paper or assignment; 3) Working with other students on projects during and outside of class; 4) Tutoring or teaching other students; 5) Participating in a community-based project as part of a course; 6) Discussing career plans with faculty, staff, or academic advisors; 7) Discussing ideas from readings with faculty outside of class (p. 1).  Moreover, Kinzie (2012) suggests that faculty and staff should be intentional about HIPs—maintaining a focus on embedding HIPs across the curriculum and co-curriculum—and introducing students to “mini-HIPs” (e.g., course-based research project, short study abroad experiences, community-service/service learning project in a course, etc.) early in their academic careers.  Short, mini-HIP experiences can translate into courses taught in traditional modalities, as well as those taught in blended and online formats.

            Following is a brief description of three high-impact learning experiences that can be applied in virtually any course or academic program: 1) Multi-HIP experiences, 2) Collaborative research teams, and 3) Integrative assignments.

Multi-HIP Experiences

Multi-HIP experiences intentionally combine one or more HIPs to further enhance student learning and engagement.  For example, learning communities, one HIP, often include a first-year seminar or experience, a second HIP, in the community to provide a link between the various courses and co-curricular experiences affiliated with the learning community.  Some learning community programs, including the program at Kennesaw State University, have found that student engagement and performance in the first college year is greater for students who enroll in learning communities that include a first-year seminar.  Other examples of common multi-HIP experiences include incorporating undergraduate research or service learning/community-based learning into a capstone course.

Collaborative Research Teams

Using collaborative research teams to introduce and engage students in research can be both an effective way to introduce students to undergraduate research and to engage students experientially in the inquiry process.  The Teaching Effectiveness Program (TEP) at the University of Oregon describes the foundation of the collaborative research model as one that takes a “cooperative stance, which supports students in working together toward informed decision making on a common research problem” (n.p., n.d.).   While the development of collaborative research teams and the process by which the teams engage in research can take many different forms, foundational to the concept of collaborative research is interdependence among the members of the team (Smith, n.d.).  As Smith (n.d.) describes, faculty should ensure collaborative research projects are structured to include measures of individual and group accountability, which is of particular importance in the research process to ensure all students are involved.

Integrative Assignments

There is a wealth of best practice resources to guide faculty in the development of integrative assignments, but relevant to HIPs, integrative assignments can provide students with motivation to reflect on and make meaning of some of the experiences they have had both in- and outside of the classroom.  Many integrative assignments and projects focus on students in first-year seminars, learning communities, or capstone courses (DeZure, Babb, & Waldmann, 2005) because by design, these HIPs often lend themselves to these types of assignments. However, incorporating integrative assignments can be effective in helping middle year (sophomores and juniors) make connections between general education and major courses (DeZure, Babb, & Waldmann, 2005).  For example, e-portfolios, like those at LaGuardia Community College, help students begin to integrate their learning and their lives as they progress through their academic courses and co-curricular involvement by collecting and reflecting on evidence from these experiences on an on-going basis (Arcario, P., Eynon, B., Clark, E. J., 2005).

Measuring/Evaluating HIPs and High-Impact Learning Experiences

The process of evaluating outcomes associated with participation in HIPs and high-impact learning experiences are as diverse as the practices and experiences themselves.  Integral to the evaluation process is the alignment between the outcomes identified for the experience and the tool used to collect those outcome data.  As faculty and staff are designing HIPs and high-impact learning experiences and identifying outcomes, they should also consider the ways in which they might evaluate those outcome data.  In the example of the e-portfolios program at LaGuardia Community College, outcomes data are collected directly from the student work in the portfolio (authentic evidence) and through the student reflections of their perceived learning and development.  The outcomes data are collected through rubrics that are used to evaluate the individual student portfolios.  Similarly, students at the University of South Carolina Aiken complete critical inquiry portfolios as a culminating assignment in their first-year seminar, and the program outcomes are evaluated through the evidence provided in the student portfolios using a modified version of the AAC&U’s Critical Thinking VALUE rubric (Foote & Dyer, 2015).  Although the rubric is used to evaluate program-level outcomes associated with the critical inquiry course, faculty who are teaching the seminar often modify the portfolio rubric to use when they are grading the portfolios submitted by their students.  In this model, the portfolios are used to both fulfill a course requirement and to evaluate outcomes associated with the program.

Following are some resources to help faculty and staff measure outcomes associated with participation in HIPs and high-impact learning experiences:

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