Focus on high-impact practices leans into a strength

Learning activities that engage students beyond traditional classroom instruction -- study abroad trips, internships, research, capstones and learning communities, for example -- already are a strength at Iowa State. They're called high-impact educational practices (HIPs), and about three out of four ISU students meet the university's goal to participate in at least two during their time as an undergraduate, a higher rate than students at similar schools. 

Over the next academic year, there will be an even greater focus as an initiative begins to unify and strengthen HIPs activity across campus.

Jan Lauren Boyles, associate professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, is leading a team that will design, implement and assess a plan for bolstering HIPs, which lead to better student retention and graduation rates. She was appointed in January to a two-year fellowship in the provost's office. 

As a first step in the half-time fellowship, Boyles met one-on-one this spring with about 50 faculty and staff, getting grassroots ideas about how to accomplish the three main goals of the initiative:

  • Identify areas ripe for growth
  • Establish assessment processes for HIPs to gauge effectiveness
  • Create a community of practice to share best practices

Equity will be a major emphasis, as well. Boyles said there are some demographic differences in participation, including lower rates among students who are first-generation, nontraditional, eligible for Pell Grants and from underrepresented populations. In some areas, there are gender gaps -- more female students study abroad, for instance.

"We know there are benefits to these experiences, so making sure those benefits are available to all students is a priority," she said.

As a catalyst for designing plans for short-, medium- and long-term action, a project team will participate in a four-day institute in June held by the American Association of Colleges and Universities. In addition to Boyles, the team includes:

  • Monic Behnken, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Jordan Brooks, director of multicultural student success, College of Design
  • Laurie Smith Law, administrative director of the honors program
  • Jen Leptien, director of learning communities 

While the project team likely will grow in the fall, the group attending the institute is a "dream team" that represents a variety of viewpoints and disciplines, Boyles said. Associate provost for academic programs Ann Marie VanDerZanden is overseeing the initiative.

Fall will bring the first signs of added support for HIPs and more in-depth analysis, Boyles said. A community of practice will launch through the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, and the project team will hold focus groups with students and study assessment methods. Other ideas for new programming could begin as early as spring 2023, she said.

Boyles said she's excited to build on the momentum and energy HIPs have at Iowa State, especially in the wake of a pandemic that reaffirmed the value of personal connections and hands-on learning.

"There are so many folks on this campus dedicated to the student experience doing great work already. We're looking for ways to increase equitable access and participation in the experiences and to elevate these opportunities for our students," she said.