Expert: UW-Green Bay on right track with high-impact learning

Keynote speaker Jillian KinzieUW-Green Bay is poised to build on existing practices that impact student success, a national expert told audiences Friday, but it will take a collaborative, intentional effort to take those initiatives to the next level.

So-called high-impact practices, which include a gamut of experiences from study abroad to undergraduate research and first-year seminars, are effective and important tools that enhance learning and foster engagement and persistence for students, said Jillian Kinzie, associate director of the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.

Kinzie led a half-day conference on the practices Friday (Jan. 20) at UW-Green Bay, drawing some 170 faculty, staff, students and interested participants from more than two dozen colleges and universities. The event paired with UW-Green Bay’s Faculty Development Conference, offered Friday morning. Kerry Ann Rockquemore, executive director of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, was the keynote speaker for that event.

Kinzie’s afternoon keynote focused on the importance of high-impact practices — why they’re effective, how they’re associated with positive outcomes and what makes them good (or great). Colleges and universities are doing good work around offering high-impact opportunities, Kinzie said — but hurdles remain.

“Here’s the hard question,” she said. “Do all students experience these high-impact practices? Sadly, no. … These are not pervasive in the ways that I would hope.”

The data bear that out, both at the national level and here at UW-Green Bay, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement. About half of UW-Green Bay students have completed semester-long internships, while about a third have done a full year of service learning. Fifteen percent of UW-Green Bay students have done undergraduate research, while 11 percent have completed a semester-long study abroad.

Data also show a gap between the percentage of students who intend to complete a high-impact experience and those who actually do, Kinzie said. Furthermore, research on the national level finds discrepancies among the type of students who are likely to engage in high-impact practices, Kinzie added. First-generation college students are far less likely to study abroad, for example — and differences exist between ethnic and racial groups, as well.

Making a difference
High-impact practices are associated with a host of benefits for students, including higher grade-point averages, greater persistence toward graduation, an increased appreciation for diversity and an increase in critical thinking and writing skills, Kinzie said. During two breakout sessions during the conference, she joined participants from UW-Green Bay and schools across the state to see what’s being done on this campus — and how faculty and staff are seeing (and students experiencing) the benefits firsthand.

UW-Green Bay Dean of Enrollment Services Mike Stearney was among those emphasizing the importance of personal relationships that form via high-impact practices. Stearney advises UW-Green Bay’s Habitat for Humanity group and SLO Food Alliance, the latter of which supports sustainable, locally grown and organic food options.

“When I’m in the garden, I’m not dean of anything — I’m just digging carrots with them,” Stearney told attendees during an afternoon breakout session. “The one relationship facilitates the other relationship.”

Conference attendees also heard from students and faculty members alike on areas from undergraduate research and cultural competence to first-year seminars. UW-Green Bay has offered the seminar courses for freshmen since 2006, said Human Development Prof. Denise Bartell, and students who take them have higher GPAs and rate their freshman experience at a higher level than those who don’t. Student Erin Ehlers lauded her freshman seminar course, “Gods, Ghosts and Goblins,” noting the class’ small size, individualized instruction and support of a peer mentor laid a framework for success.

“My freshman seminar really opened doors for future involvement,” said Ehlers, a Human Development honor student who has held numerous leadership roles on campus.

Prof. John Luczaj, Natural and Applied Sciences, echoed that idea in speaking of his own undergraduate experiences — high-impact practices that included months of fieldwork in the United States and Mexico. Discussion in lectures is one thing, Luczaj said, but the application of knowledge and skills takes it to the next level.

“That’s not something you can buy,” he said. “That’s not something you can memorize or prepare. You either did it or you didn’t.”

Looking ahead
Facilitating high-impact experience for all students remains the goal for educators here and nationwide, Kinzie said, and she recommends that every student complete at least two high-impact practices in his or her college career. Making that happen, Kinzie added, is a responsibility shared among faculty, staff, administrators and students themselves — a broad-based approach that was reflected in the variety of individuals who attended Friday’s session.

The keynote speaker identified several things UW-Green Bay is doing well in terms of these critical student experiences, including emphases on cultural competence, 21st century and real-world learning, leadership, service and undergraduate research. She also suggested ways to build on those positives, including increased collaboration both in and out of the classroom, capitalizing on students’ inherent interest in real-world experience, and utilizing persuasive accounts of existing practices’ impact on students.

Kinzie also noted that not all high-impact practices involve long-term investment or commitment, and that faculty and others also can make a difference with more day-to-day efforts. These less-structured experiences for students, including making class presentations, working with a peer group or writing multiple drafts of a paper, can increase learning retention if done at a high level.

Through efforts large and small, the UW-Green Bay community can work together to increase the quality of high-impact practices — and the number of students who are changed because of them, Kinzie said. With time and other demands, it isn’t easy, Kinzie said. But it will pay off.

“A lot of this work requires more careful thought, deliberation,” Kinzie said. “ … but it really is worth investing in.”

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