On High Value Learning

On High Value Learning

Pedagogical patterns underlying High Impact Practices in higher education

By Bill Heinrich, Director of Assessment, The Hub and Jeno Rivera, Director Liberty Hyde Bailey Scholars Program & Assistant Professor, Residential College for the Arts and Humanities

Frequently enough, one of us will run across a student who tells us, “Wow! That study abroad changed my life.” Because we know students value their own learning and we’re interested in the value of transformative learning to students, we pry a bit more by asking for details about the experience. Typically, the extent of the story we hear is “It was great!” What students often don’t articulate is that they had a passionate professor, instructor, or advisor who made an effort to care about them and their learning. We think it’s important to know what these efforts looks like.

This research brief explores the underlying pedagogical behaviors of known High Impact Practices, or HIPs (i.e., study abroad, field study, labs, and undergraduate research). Thirty years of research and practice has made clear that if we can provide certain methods of teaching we see students succeed. HIPs matter on the grand scale as well because they lead students to higher year-to-year persistence in college, stronger integrated learning outcomes, and shorter times to graduation. Further, these outcomes are realized across gender, economic, and demographic differences.

But what does it mean to provide a High Impact Practice? Beyond just adding a high-impact activity, attending to underlying Engagement Indicators (EIs) like teaching and learning patterns is very important. HIPs need to include high expectations for students; peer to peer learning; meaningful interactions with faculty, mentors, and staff; authentic and frequent feedback; opportunities for reflection; and opportunities to apply learning in real settings. Educators embed such pedagogical patterns in educational contexts to create rich learning.

However, universities might be tempted to implement the activity for its association with success without attending to the underlying pedagogy. For example, faculty can conduct study abroad without embedding high impact pedagogy, essentially creating an expensive lecture. In these cases, without attending to underlying pedagogy, the activity is not sufficient to encourage critical analysis, problem solving, or creative thought. Without attending to teaching practices, the activities we expect to deliver high-impact student outcomes do not necessarily do so. More importantly, high-impact pedagogical patterns can lead to rich learning outcomes regardless of where they take place so we can replicate them in local settings.

In a local example, our Fisheries and Wildlife students in HIP-waders (see what we did there?) regularly spend time in the Red Cedar River on MSU’s campus. They remove trash and debris, test water quality, and monitor and observe wildlife. These students write reports about what they found, both scientifically and for the impacts on other humans. Observing this pedagogy tells us the student is in a rich learning environment. Students seem to be applying knowledge in a hands-on scene, working with peers and faculty, getting and using frequent feedback, and putting in effort. And yet, as much as we can literally see the experiential field and lab learning, until we see the student outcomes, individually and in aggregate, we can’t assume the high-impact learning we expect.

In the last year, we explored a handful of campus programs likely to have HIPs. We wanted to see how these kinds of educational patterns are understood by educators and practiced across campus. We interviewed faculty and staff from eight co-curricular units and colleges to hear what they perceived as EI behaviors, pedagogies, and interventions. We discovered how these approaches take place in multiple for-credit and noncredit scenarios. We documented and mapped a number of ways which HIPs and EI were implemented authentically in courses, field, lab work, and student support settings.

Each of these examples show how educators add value for learners in systemic and authentic ways. We found that EIs do not require additional staff or specialized training. In cost-effective ways, members of the departments considered HIPs in hiring decisions, planning for and funding hands-on learning, and by sharing and reflecting on their efforts. We wonder how other faculty and staff use HIPs as drivers of learning cultures and how students engage in these pedagogies.

Moving forward, we have two opportunities. First, we want to know more about how students process and blend learning in these spaces to make meaning and we’re collecting data on such student experiences. Second, we will add these program characteristics to a developing campus-wide database that allows us to see how HIPs contribute to student success outcomes such as grades, persistence, and graduation.
The value of higher education for undergraduates is closely linked to known patterns of pedagogy that we think of as HIPs. We continue to create HIPs because they require students to compare and contrast, question assumptions, discover who they will become, and unpack the systems surrounding their majors and their future. Students still tell us that they had life changing experiences in college; the language of HIPs helps them tell their story. In this case, it is definitely hip to have HIP.