University communities across the country continually are striving to find ways to best maximize student engagement.  At the center of this issue is a question about which pedagogical practices are most effective at achieving student learning outcomes and maximizing retention.

The Association of American Colleges and University (AAC&U) has identified ten practices that have shown to have significant positive effect on students’ learning outcomes.  Each one of the ten practices identified by AAC&U is similar in that it requires students to spend an extended amount of time and attention to their assigned tasks or projects, to have sustained interaction with their peers and with their instructors, and to reflect or analyze the educational experience and make connections to their personal lives.  The ten practices that AAC&U has identified as high-impact practices are as follows:

  1. First-Year Seminars and Experiences
  2. Common Intellectual Experiences
  3. Learning Communities
  4. Writing-Intensive Courses
  5. Collaborative Assignments and Projects
  6. Undergraduate Research
  7. Diversity/Global Learning
  8. Services Learning, Community-Based Learning
  9. Internships
  10. Capstone Courses and Projects

Research conducted by AAC&U has shown that there are multiple benefits to implementing high-impact practices.  Having a project or multiple tasks sustained over a period of time gives students more opportunities to receive feedback, both formal and informal.  Another benefit is that students have an increased likelihood of experiencing diversity.  Goal 4 of UTC’s Strategic Plan for 2015-2020 is to “embrace diversity and inclusion as a path to excellence and societal change.”  High-impact practices support the university’s goal and priorities by encouraging students to engage with others who may be different from themselves in their classes and in the community.  Furthermore, students engaging with others who are different from themselves helps students to understand their positionality in the world and solidify their personal beliefs.

Potentially, one of the most important effects of utilizing high-impact practices is the potential equity gains.  When comparing student ACT scores against first year GPA, all students show improved GPAs when they have the opportunity to engage in high-impact practices.  However, those who enter college with lower ACT scores have shown greater GPA increases than their peers who enter college with higher scores.  In other words, high-impact practices help all students achieve at a higher level, but these particular pedagogical practices have been shown to help those who need it the most.

The Walker Center for Teaching and Learning, in supporting the needs of the faculty and encouraging innovative pedagogical practices, has developed the High-Impact Practices Development Grant program.  The grant provides funds for faculty to create or further develop high-impact practices in their courses.  Details about the grant program, a list of past recipients, as well as an application form can be found on the Walker Center’s High-Impact Practices Development Grant webpage.  For more information about high-impact practices or how to implement high-impact practices in your courses, contact the Walker Center for Teaching and Learning at wctl@utc.edu or 423-425-4188.

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