High-Impact Activities: If you value it, they will come

In the movie “Field of Dreams” the lead character kept hearing the refrain, “Build it and they will come”. Delivering a new course or designing new programs is only the first step in making them successful. Faculty have to be actively involved in showing why, in this case, high-impact activities, are important. Deep learning is a feature of a high-impact activity and is accomplished by

  • Working on a paper or project integrating ideas or information from various sources
  • Including diverse perspectives in class discussions/writing
  • Putting together ideas from different courses
  • Discussing ideas with faculty members outside of class
  • Discussing ideas with others outside of class
  • Analyzing the basic elements of an idea, experience, or theory
  • Synthesizing and organizing ideas, information, or experience
  • Making judgement about the value of information
  • Applying theories to practical problems or in new situations
  • Examining the strengths and weaknesses of you own views on a topic or issue
  • Trying to better understand some else’s views by imagining their perspective
  • Learning something that changed how you understand an issue or a concept

Source: Thomas F. Nelson Laird, Rick Shoup, George D. Kuh, and M. J. Schwarz,(2008) “The Effects of Discipline on Deep Approaches to Student Learning and College Outcomes,” Research in Higher Education 49, no. 6: 469–494.

I spent several minutes examining the graph below graph relating senior participation in high-impact activities to average importance faculty place on the experience from the the Association of Colleges and Universities. If you value them, they will come …

Source: http://www.neasc.org/downloads/aacu_high_impact_2008_final.pdf

What faculty think and value matters when it comes to student participation in high-impact activities. Data from the 2007 National Student Survey of Engagement and Faculty Survey of Student Engagement plotted in the figure above shows a positive relationship between faculty the importance faculty place on high-impact activities and strident participation. If we as educators want to make a positive difference in student’s lives, we need to express the importance of the experience. Simply offering an opportunity does not necessarily mean students will choose to engage in an activity unless they know it brings positive, personal benefits. Educators need to demonstrate the relevancy of the experience and net benefits gained  to encourage student participation. The importance of these activities can be accomplished through the advising process, course-level discussion, programmatic requirements, or  personal demonstration and modelling.

Another interesting feature of this graph is the slight change in the activity students participated in and faculty importance. Study abroad experience has the highest participation among faculty who on average who believe it to be very important. Having been involved in all three high-impact activities as a faculty, I personally attest to the importance of students engaging people from other cultures while living in their country. Spending a semester immmersed in another culture can be life changing for both students and faculty. It is an activity of highest impact and should be actively promoted.


Kuh, G.D. (2008) High-Impact Educational Practices. Association of American Colleges and Universities. Washington. 35 p. (Source)


About Michael Ritter PhD
Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, science textbook author, educational technology blogger, podcaster, and freelance media consultant.

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