High-Impact Practices: The Key to College Success and the Hallmark of an Albertus Education

Have you ever taken a course in which you wrote all of the papers, took all of the exams, passed or even received an A, but a month after it was over, remembered little or nothing about the content, or could no longer apply what you had learned? People have an amazing capacity for such superficial learning that enables them to meet the goal at hand. The question is how do we learn deeply? How can we learn in a way that transforms us, in a way that enables us to take what we have learned and engage the world in new and creative ways, or, less ambitiously, just solve problems or overcome obstacles we have identified?

In a report sponsored by the American Association of Colleges and Universities entitled, High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access To Them, and Why They Matter, George Kuh identifies a number of teaching strategies, which he calls high-impact practices, that have been shown to promote student learning and success. The list includes:

  • First-year seminars and experiences
  • Writing-intensive courses
  • Collaborative assignments and projects
  • Undergraduate research
  • Diversity/global learning
  • Service learning
  • Internships
  • Common intellectual experiences
  • Capstone courses and projects

What do these have in common? They require that students engage with others in the learning process and take what they are learning and apply it. Action and engagement are part of the learning process itself, not something that happens after it is over.

When I first heard the term, high-impact practice, a few years ago, it was a Eureka moment because it brought together under a single label so many of the practices I had found to be successful in teaching students at Albertus. I was also proud because it affirmed what we at Albertus were doing as being worthwhile. First-year and capstone seminars, writing intensive courses, and collaborative learning, are all core elements of Albertus’s general education program, the Insight Program. Two-thirds of our students participate in internships and/or student teaching. In recent years, inspired by the research on high-impact practices, we have expanded undergraduate research opportunities, including the establishment of an innovative program, the Aquinas Scholars Program, which enables faculty to work with students on projects they design. We also have expanded service learning opportunities. This year, one of our service learning courses included participation in a Habitat for Humanity project in Canada. (You can learn about the experience of students who participated by going to: Service Learning: Across Borders 2013)

Our most ambitious recent project has been to introduce the use of ePortfolios as a high-impact practice. As part of their coursework, students are building ePortfolios in which they document and reflect upon what they have learned. These ePortfolios can be used to support their applications to graduate schools or as professional ePortfolios which they can use when applying for positions. You can see some examples of what students are doing by visiting The ePortfolio Initiative page.

Our focus on the use of high-impact practices has contributed to making Albertus a vibrant learning community. Each year, we celebrate students’ accomplishments and recommit ourselves to providing an education that matters at Experiential Learning Day, where students share their work. (To take a look at this year’s Experiential Learning Day.)

I appreciate the opportunity to be part of the Albertus community, to be part of an enterprise that I know is making a difference in so many people’s lives.

 

Dr. Sean P. O’Connell is the Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs at Albertus Magnus College. Dr. O’Connell earned his B.A., summa cum laude, and M.A. in philosophy from The Catholic University of America, and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Fordham University. He has published articles and essays on topics ranging from a close reading of Plato’s Philebus to promoting diversity in higher education. He is the author of OutSpeak: Narrating Identities that Matter.

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