High-impact Practices: Frequently Asked Questions

 The following summaries are gleaned from “High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter”, by George D. Kuh (2008; AAC&U).

What are the goals of ‘high-impact educational practices’?

The phrase ‘high-impact educational practices’ includes a specific list of activities, but more important are the key outcomes of a liberal arts education that these practices are oriented toward achieving. These key outcomes are summarized by the AAC&U (2008) as follows:

1. Knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world:

    • Through study in the arts, histories, humanities, languages, mathematics and computational sciences, social sciences, and sciences.

Focused by engagement with big questions, both contemporary and enduring.

2. Intellectual and practical skills, including:

    • Inquiry and analysis
    • Critical and creative thinking
    • Written and oral communication
    • Quantitative literacy
    • Information literacy
    • Teamwork and problem solving

Practiced extensively, across the curriculum, in the context of progressively more challenging problems, projects, and standards for performance.

3. Personal and social responsibilities, including:

    • Civic knowledge and engagement--local and global
    • Intercultural knowledge and competence
    • Ethical reasoning and action
    • Foundations and skills for lifelong learning

Anchored through active involvement with diverse communities and real-world challenges.

4. Integrative and applied learning, including:

    • Synthesis and advanced accomplishment across general and specialized studies

Demonstrated through the application of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and complex problems.


What are these “high-impact educational practices”?

There are ten specific practices. Advising has been identified as a key activity essential to the success of these practices. Quotes below are from Kuh (2008). 

  • First-year seminars and experiences

“The highest-quality first-year experiences place a strong emphasis on critical inquiry, frequent writing, information literacy, collaborative learning, and other skills that deepen students’ intellectual and practical competencies.”

  • Common intellectual experiences

“These programs often combine broad themes with a variety of curricular and cocurricular options for students.”

  • Learning communities

“The key goals are to encourage integration of learning across courses and to involve students with ‘big questions’ that matter beyond the classroom. Many learning communities explore a common topic and/or common readings through the lenses of different disciplines.”

  • Writing-intensive courses

“These courses emphasize writing at all levels of instruction and across the curriculum, including final-year projects. The effectiveness of this repeated practices ‘across the curriculum’ has led to parallel efforts in such areas as quantitative reasoning, oral communication, information literacy, and, on some campuses, ethical inquiry.”

  • Collaborative assignments and projects

“... combines two key goals: learning to work and solve problems in the company of others, and sharpening one’s own understanding by listening seriously to the insights of others, especially those with different backgrounds and life experiences.”

  • Undergraduate research

“The goal is to involve students with actively contested questions, empirical observation, cutting-edge technologies, and the sense of excitement that comes from working to answer important questions.”

  • Diversity/Global learning

“... courses and programs that help students explore cultures, life experiences, and worldviews different from their own. These studies often explore ‘difficult differences’ such as racial, ethnic, and gender inequality, or continuing struggles around the globe for human rights, freedom, and power.”

  • Service learning, community-based learning

“The idea is to give students direct experience with issues they are studying in the curriculum and with ongoing efforts to analyze and solve problems in the community. A key element is the opportunity students have to both apply what they are learning in real-world settings and reflect in a classroom setting on their service experiences.”

  • Internships

“The idea is to provide students with direct experience in a work setting and to give them the benefit of supervision and coaching from professionals in the field. If the internship is taken for course credit, students complete a project or paper that is approved by a faculty member.”

  • Capstone courses and projects

“… these culminating experiences require students nearing the end of their college years to create a project of some sort that integrates and applies what they’ve learned. The project might be a research paper, a performance, a porfolio of ‘best work,’ or an exhibit of artwork.”

Departments and majors that might already be doing some of these practices may be interested in exploring whether their implementations and approaches are effective in helping their students achieve the underpinning learning outcomes behind these practices, whether they reflect some of the characteristics used above to describe them, and how varied are students’ experiences of these practices depending on major and department.


Why are these practices particularly effective?

Kuh summarizes six main reasons:

  • Time, commitment, and purpose:
    “… typically demand that students devote considerable time and effort to purposeful tasks; most require daily decisions that deepen students’ investment in the activity as well as their commitment to their academic program and the college.”
  • Extended and substantive interaction with others:
    “… puts students in circumstances that essentially demand they interact with faculty and peers about substantive matters, typically over extended periods of time.”
  • Collaborative engagement with diversity and difference:
    “… participating in one or more of these activities increases the likelihood that students will experience diversity through contact with people who are different from themselves. … These experiences often challenge students to develop new ways of thinking about and responding immediately to novel circumstances as they work side by side with peers on intellectual and practical tasks, inside and outside the classroom, on and off campus.”
  • Formative feedback and continuous improvement:
    “… students typically get frequent feedback about their performance in every one.”
  • Tackling complex and novel problems:
    “… provides opportunities for students to see how what they are learning works in different settings, on and off campus. These opportunities to integrate, synthesize, and apply knowledge are essential to deep, meaningful learning experiences.”
  • Transformational learning:
    “… it can be life changing to study abroad, participate in service learning, conduct research with a faculty member, or complete an internship. That is why doing one or more of these activities in the context of a coherent, academically challenging curriculum that appropriately infuses opportunities for active, collaborative learning increases the odds that students will be prepared to—in the words of William Cronon—‘just connect.’”
Attachment Size
AACU High Impact Practices Report.pdf 1.41 MB