Investigating the effectiveness of “high impact practices” through student perspective

The University of Guelph in Ontario is taking a closer look at student perceptions of high impact practices in an effort to dovetail student experiences with the university’s SEM goals.

“Guelph’s SEM goals include monitoring, encouraging and increasing high impact practices and experiential learning, as well as attracting high quality students, widening participation and diversity, and enhancing student experience,” said Sofie Lachapelle,  Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Professor of History at Guelph.

To enhance their SEM process, the university has sought a better understanding of students’ experience and engagement with high impact practices

“High impact practices are well-studied in academic literature,” said Natasha Cook, Research Associate, Institutional Analysis and Research. “And the provincial government is interested in high impact practices and experiential learning.”

But what do the students think of these practices?

The student survey originated as Cook’s Master’s project, and was initially limited to students in the College of Biological Sciences. The survey has since evolved and, last Winter, was distributed to a wider group of students at the university. After defining “high impact practices,” the survey lists each practice and asks whether the student has engaged with it. If yes, more details are collected, such as where the experience took place (in a course, in co-curricular activities, etc.) and what the experience was like.

“We’re collecting baseline data on engagement and connecting it with learning outcomes,” Cook said. (The students consented to link survey responses to academic information so that learning outcomes could be assessed. For a list of the university’s five articulated learning outcomes, click here.) “Now we have data on how these outcomes are perceived by students in the context of engagement in high impact practices.”

The survey showed that more than 50 percent of students have engaged in at least two high impact practices, and that most of these experiences are happening in the curriculum.

“The data is rich, and we can do a lot with it,” Lachapelle said.  For example, they can learn

  • From a student perspective, do high impact practices work?

  • Do students identify the same effective practices that the university does?

  • Who engages in high impact practices? Where are the gaps?

  • What strategies are effective and how can instructors incorporate them into their teaching?

More broadly, these kind of data can help directly inform curricular improvement, allocation of resources, and an institution’s SEM plan and goals.

“This research adds a nice lens into what students are thinking and what they are actually seeking in their education,” said Karen Menard, Assistant Vice President of Institutional Analysis and Research. “It’s important to know whether students find curriculum and pedagogical approaches effective.”

Lachapelle, Cook, and Menard will discuss their findings and how they inform institutional SEM goals in their session “High Impact Practices: Mapping Student Perspective to Institutional Priorities” at this fall’s AACRAO SEM Conference. They will also talk about how institutions can develop similar surveys. For more tips on bringing SEM to your campus, register now for the AACRAO SEM Conference, Oct. 29-Nov. 1 in Phoenix.