The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) has identified several teaching and learning practices that benefit students from all backgrounds, including historically underserved students who often have not had access to high-impact learning experiences. Among these are:
- First year seminars and experiences
- Common intellectual experiences
- Learning communities
- Writing-intensive courses
- Collaborative assignments and projects
- Undergraduate research
- Diversity/global learning
- Service learning, community-based learning
- Capstone Courses and Programs
UCF offers the following high impact practice opportunities for students.
First-Year Experiences and Common Reader
Many schools now build into the curriculum first-year seminars or other programs that bring small groups of students together with faculty or staff on a regular basis. First-year experiences place a strong emphasis on critical inquiry, frequent writing, information literacy, collaborative learning, and other skills that develop students’ intellectual and practical competencies. UCF’s First Year Experience (FYE) combines orientation with extended first year transition programs including UCF’s official Welcome Week (Pegasus Palooza), LINK, and the Strategies for Success (SLS) course. It assists entering freshmen and transfer students with their transition to UCF by providing information about student services, campus life, academic support, academic advising, and registration.
The Common Reading Program serves UCF’s First Time in College (FTIC) students. The intent of establishing a Common Reading Program is to engage FTIC students in a dialogue around a relevant topic while creating a sense of community among incoming students.
Common Intellectual Experiences
The older idea of a “core” curriculum has evolved into a variety of modern forms, such as a set of required common courses or a vertically organized general education program that includes advanced integrative studies and/or required participation in a learning community. These programs often combine broad themes—e.g., technology and society, global interdependence—with a variety of curricular and cocurricular options for students.
UCF Quality Enhancement Plan
The Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) is an important component of UCF’s reaffirmation process through our regional accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). It is a plan of action developed and implemented by the faculty, staff, students, administrators, and community partners in Central Florida that gives the university an opportunity to improve student learning (https://undergrad.ucf.edu/qep/about-ucf-qep/).
The mission of UCF’s most recent Quality Enhancement Plan, What’s Next: Integrative Learning for Professional and Civic Preparation, was to prepare our graduates to successfully enter and participate in the next steps of their professional and civic lives. What’s Next sought to help students plan for their futures post-graduation: to not only set goals but to identify the knowledge and skills necessary to reach those goals. The initiative encouraged students to connect their classroom knowledge and skills to real-world contexts and, thereby, to develop the ability to transfer knowledge and skills from one context to another. Finally, this initiative promoted opportunities for students to reflect on their experiences, to communicate their knowledge and experiences, and to develop the ability to successfully advocate for themselves in their lives beyond the university.
The key goals for learning communities are to encourage integration of learning across courses and to involve students with “big questions” that matter beyond the classroom. Students take two or more linked courses as a group and work closely with one another and with their professors. Many learning communities explore a common topic and/or common readings through the lenses of different disciplines. Some deliberately link “liberal arts” and “professional courses”; others feature service learning.
A Living Learning Community is a group of students placed together on a floor or within a building based on a common major, common interest, or common program affiliation. A list of these communities is available from UCF Housing at https://www.housing.ucf.edu/choices/llc/.
These courses emphasize writing at all levels of instruction and across the curriculum, including final-year projects. Students are encouraged to produce and revise various forms of writing for different audiences in different disciplines. The effectiveness of this repeated practice “across the curriculum” has led to parallel efforts in such areas as quantitative reasoning, oral communication, information literacy, and, on some campuses, ethical inquiry.
UCF Gordon Rule Courses
This rule requires all students to complete at least four writing-intensive courses (twelve credit hours).
UCF Writing Across the Curriculum
Writing Across the Curriculum is a program at UCF that assists faculty in creation and implementation of effective approaches to writing instruction in their discipline. The WAC program collaborates with faculty from all departments and disciplines to create customized projects that meet the needs of their departments and their students.
Collaborative Assignments and Projects
Collaborative learning 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. Approaches range from study groups within a course, to team-based assignments and writing, to cooperative projects and research.
The UCF Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning (FCTL) offers workshops, web materials, and consultations on incorporating and assessing collaborative learning in courses.
Many colleges and universities are now providing research experiences for students in all disciplines. Undergraduate research, however, has been most prominently used in science disciplines. With strong support from the National Science Foundation and the research community, scientists are reshaping their courses to connect key concepts and questions with students’ early and active involvement in systematic investigation and 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.
At UCF, faculty mentors from a wide variety of disciplines work with students across campus on diverse research projects. Faculty are the essential links between students and their research projects. As mentors, they provide guidance and encouragement to undergraduate researchers while nurturing the development of independent research skills and increased senses of self-confidence.
Many colleges and universities now emphasize courses and programs that help students explore cultures, life experiences, and worldviews different from their own. These studies—which may address U.S. diversity, world cultures, or both—often explore “difficult differences” such as racial, ethnic, and gender inequality, or continuing struggles around the globe for human rights, freedom, and power. Frequently, intercultural studies are augmented by experiential learning in the community and/or by study abroad.
UCF Diversity Course Requirement
UCF recognizes that communities are comprised of, and enriched by, people of diverse backgrounds. The study of diversity is encouraged to promote an understanding of the needs of individuals, the University, and society. Thus, all students completing their first bachelor’s degree from UCF must complete at least one course that explores the diverse backgrounds and characteristics found among humans, including: race/ethnicity, gender, social class/caste, religion, age, sexual orientation, and level of physical ability.
Studying in another nation or culture can enable students to gain a global mind-set, learn another language, and pursue personal and professional development opportunities. The UCF Abroad office coordinates a wide range of international experiences for students. Study abroad opportunities are searchable by location and major. And range from a few weeks to an entire semester abroad at dozens of locations around the globe. Additionally, UCF Abroad collaborates with the Office of Experiential Learning to customize internships placements abroad.
Service Learning, Community-Based Learning
In these programs, field-based “experiential learning” with community partners is an instructional strategy—and often a required part of the course. Service-learning designated courses at UCF require at least 15 hours of service learning activity, enabling students to take academics out of the classroom and into the community in an effort to promote civic engagement. By working with community partners such as non-profit organizations, public schools, government agencies, campus groups, or businesses with specifically philanthropic missions, students develop skills and knowledge that will help them to become civically responsible members of the community.
Internships are another increasingly common form of experiential learning. The idea is to provide students with direct experience in a work setting—usually related to their career interests—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.
At UCF, Experiential Learning personnel instruct co-op and internship courses, support faculty in the creation and development of internship and service-learning courses, provide best practices workshops, facilitate incentive funding approval processes against criteria, promote applied learning to students and maintain statistics on applied learning across campus.
Capstone Courses and Projects
Whether they’re called “senior capstones” or some other name, 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 portfolio of “best work,” or an exhibit of artwork. Capstones are offered both in departmental programs and, increasingly, in general education as well. Many UCF programs require cornerstone and/or capstone courses to fulfill degree requirements.
High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter, by George D. Kuh (AAC&U, 2008). https://provost.tufts.edu/celt/files/High-Impact-Ed-Practices1.pdf.