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Get HIP: Facilitating Student and Faculty Success
The genesis of Gainesville State College’s (GSC) Roadmap Project lay in the work of a large-scale self-study in 2007 under the aegis of the national Foundations of Excellence (FoE) program. Over the last ten years, GSC has maintained its commitment to a “student focused, learning centered” environment through the FOE assessment and other student success projects while experiencing state-funding budget cuts and an explosive 170 percent growth in student headcount. During that same period, degrees awarded increased by 178 percent. While our efforts were serving students in positive ways, participation in Roadmap exploited synergies across programs and created a foundation for enduring practices that would be essential in the coming institutional transformations.
In preparation for AAC&U’s Greater Expectations Institute in June 2010, we studied multiple streams of data, including the general education assessments, the foundations for which had been laid as we were doing the FoE. The stories from our data—that critical thinking was a component in desperate need of address and that our students weren’t staying with us—became the heart of our discussions. We crafted a strategy and cost model steeped in high-impact practices (HIPs—“Get HIP” became our mantra) and a plan for a group of highly-trained faculty champions who would support efforts to both teach a new first-year experience course and train other faculty in implementing and assessing HIPs. Our shared belief was that faculty successes would promote greater student successes.
The recommendation, however, met with administrative resistance, prompting radical transformations to our design that would prove to be only the first of many. A reconstituted team went to the 2011 AAC&U Institute on High-Impact Practices and Student Success, where we focused our efforts on engaging the synergy available with our coming reaccreditation visit and its associated Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). We also leveraged already present commitments to three HIPs: undergraduate research, diversity and global learning, and service learning. The plan to embed HIPs in one area of the core curriculum soon became the pilot phase of the institutional QEP, and the Faculty Academy, a professional development center, became a codified structure with a budgetary investment from the college to begin in fall 2012. Thus, a year later than we anticipated, we embarked on a more far-reaching plan than we had first imagined.
An Opportunity from Upheaval
January 2012 brought with it the most unexpected transformation we had yet encountered. GSC was to be consolidated—by January 2013—with another successful University System of Georgia institution, North Georgia College & State University (NGCSU). By mid-spring, we knew University of North Georgia (UNG) would be comprehensive, embracing both NGCSU’s selective and GSC’s access and transfer missions. Because NGCSU and GSC shared commitments to the same HIPs and to AAC&U’s LEAP initiative, the newly available synergy allowed for large-scale transformations, including astonishingly fast general education reform that culminated with faculty approval of a new core curriculum eleven months after the consolidation was announced. Our decision in 2011 to focus Roadmap’s efforts on faculty successes within already-existing commitments would prove significant, as it both ensured the survival of our project and provided an avenue for influential discussions regarding large-scale curricular change.
The Faculty Academy and High-Impact Practices
The Faculty Academy involved instructors invited to apply to study and then implement a project on one of GSC’s three previously chosen HIPs—service learning, diversity and global learning, and undergraduate research. These three HIPs had also been written into the NGCSU strategic plan as key initiatives, and thus became significant priorities in the context of the newly formed institution. As a consequence of this convergence, the Faculty Academy selected ten projects to delve into these HIPs and find better and broader assessments to ensure that they truly were being “high impact.” In particular, the projects on undergraduate research benefited from infrastructure already in place at NGCSU and GSC to develop scalable programming and assessment across departments.
The Faculty Academy incorporates research-based pedagogical texts, provides a collaborative approach to plan high-impact projects, and integrates them into the semester’s design. The academy blends face-to-face meetings and online communities to create a robust conversation among faculty sustained over a year. In September 2012, we held a five-hour retreat to provide an introduction to the program and key concepts, as well as to launch cross-disciplinary conversations. Faculty were given an introduction or refresher on Bloom’s and Fink’s taxonomies. Then, they applied these concepts to their project proposals and shared their work in small discussion groups. Most faculty had not practiced the Wiggins and McTighe backward design—a framework that begins with establishing desired outcomes and competencies and then seeks to build learning experiences to achieve them, rather than beginning with just content coverage in mind. We devoted substantial time to these concepts and to their application in implementing high-impact practices.
In October and November, we held a series of roundtables that enabled faculty to exchange their research and ideas on the particular HIP they were in the process of studying. Academy participants and leaders, as well as institution experts in these areas, were invited to participate. Each session considered a range of questions, such as
- How might we explain to students the full arc of how the high-impact project integrates into the course as a whole and, of course, their educational goals?
- What are the learning outcomes for each high-impact project and how do these reflect the range of learning represented in Fink’s taxonomy?
In late November and December, the Faculty Academy leaders met individually with participants to review the progress and planning for the spring projects. As of the spring of 2013, UNG is in the midst of project implementation and collaborative assessment of projects via classroom visits and review of materials.
For these academy participants, including both faculty who are new to HIPs and long-time practitioners, the opportunity for reflective (re)design of course projects and assignments has been energizing. This year-long project supports their intrinsic desire to identify and polish effective learning-centered practices and to better assess their efficacy. One major finding thus far is the importance of offering faculty time to “retreat” in order to do the in-depth thinking and planning that such projects demand. We seek to include that reflective time as we move into the next phase.
The Roadmap grant has allowed us to achieve our initial goal of integrating our student success efforts by supporting faculty innovation with targeted HIPs. While we had an admittedly unusual pathway, the surprises offered opportunities for large-scale transformations we had imagined might take place over time to happen in a single intensively-focused year. The intensive faculty development has fostered a wider view of the ways in which high-impact practices are implemented across disciplines, a more nuanced understanding of course design, and a heightened commitment to the importance of crafting aspirational learning outcomes for our students.
Kris Roney is an associate professor of English and an associate vice president/dean at University College; Mary Carney is an associate professor of English and director of Center for Teaching, Learning and Leadership—both of the University of North Georgia. Both authors began the Roadmap project as academic leaders at Gainsville State College, which recently became part of the University of North Georgia.