High Impact Practices in Action

Collaboration courtesy of Berdea on Wikimedia Commons

By Roxanne Wilson

St. Cloud State University makes a positive, long-term impact on the lives of our students. We provide rigorous and relevant academic experiences with engaged, active learning opportunities in an intellectually vibrant, inclusive and diverse campus community.

Our graduates are well prepared to act as responsible global citizens and professionals who remain actively connected with our university, thanks in large part to our learning commitments:

  • Active and applied learning
  • Community engagement
  • Sustainability
  • Global and cultural understanding

High Impact Practices

As a new faculty, I reviewed LEAP high impact practices at http://leap.aacu.org/toolkit/high-impact-practices, which include:

  • First-Year Seminars
  • Common Intellectual Experiences
  • Learning Communities
  • Writing-Intensive Courses
  • Collaborative Assignments and Projects
  • Undergraduate Research
  • Diversity/Global Learning
  • Community-Based Learning
  • Internships
  • Capstone Courses and Projects

Putting Them Into Action

I found it somewhat daunting to think of integrating such a vast array of practices into my practice. I teach one of the first nursing courses and felt this was an opportunity to build the first year seminar concept, writing intensive learning, collaborative assignments and an understanding of research.

I met with each student on a one to one and learned their passion for nursing, their dreams for their profession and background. As an assignment, I had them learn how to use professional literature to write a paper outlining how they could use their college course and work experiences to achieve this dream. The required paper is in APA format, which I assigned in sequential segments through the class.

I had students work in groups to build collaboration. One of the groups worked with the writing center to learn APA and then worked with Writing Center staff to teach back. They created an APA song to help bind the building blocks. It was not generally successful for teaching APA as the song was too long and the students were inhibited. However, the group built a bond and the students were very interested in the overall concept. Next year, I intend to select musical students and work with the music department to make it shorter.

What high impact practices have you tried?

What were the outcomes of those practices?

About the author: Roxanne Wilson is Assistant Professor of Nursing.


Syllabus and Inclusivity

Image of male and female icons in a rainbow of colors.

Photo courtesy of www.sheldon-hess.org.

By Lalita Subrahmanyan

I’ve been lately thinking about how our syllabus, which is considered our “legal contract” with our students, demonstrates our teaching philosophy, a component of which is how we think about inclusivity.

Accessibility Statement

Most universities require all faculty to include an accessibility statement in their syllabus. At SCSU our Student Disability Services office provides excellent resources for faculty including sample statements.

Sample Statement

I  really liked the following statement I found from Eastern Michigan University because of how it was personalized by the faculty member to be sensitive to student needs:

“It is my goal that this class be an accessible and welcoming experience for all students, including those with disabilities that may impact learning in this class. If anyone believes the design of this course poses barriers to effectively participating and/or demonstrating learning in this course, please meet with me (with or without a Student Disability Services (SDS) accommodation letter) to discuss reasonable options or adjustments During our discussion, I may suggest the possibility/necessity of your contacting Student Disability Services to talk about academic accommodations. You are welcome to talk to me at any point in the semester about course design concerns, but it is always best if we can talk at least one week prior to the need for any modifications.” Eastern Michigan University.Accessibility or Inclusiveness?

Is an accessibility statement sufficient to help students feel connected and engaged in the course? Or should we be crafting a statement of our willingness and expectation of inclusiveness? Inclusivity of perspectives, of identities, orientations, opinions, styles, preferences? If so, what might that look like?

I’d like to hear from you!

About the author: Lalita Subrahmanyan is Professor of Education and Director, CETL.

How to Implement Peer Review

By Emil Towner

Photo of students working on laptop together.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

We’ve all heard about the benefits of peer reviewing, but how can you help students experience those benefits?

Richard Chisholm discusses some of the pitfalls and offers a simple exercise for implementing student peer reviewing in any course. The exercise is based on work by Karen Spear and Peter Elbow. The exercise offers a number of benefits, including:

  • Providing practice so students know how to effectively review a peer’s work
  • Helping students see how peer reviewing is useful beyond the classroom

Focus on Four Types

The exercise focuses on helping students focus on four types of feedback:

  1. Positive feedback on the paper’s best parts
  2. Description of the main points that were evident in the paper
  3. Questions about the writer’s meaning or wording in areas that are unclear
  4. Suggestions for areas that need more information, clarity, re-organization, etc.

In Addition…

I’ve also found it helpful to re-assure students that they do not need to be excellent writers themselves in order to peer review a paper. They simply need to approach the activity as a reader. That takes away a lot of pressure and helps center the discussion around the reader’s experience—that is, did the writer express the main points to the reader, was the reader confused at any point, what would help the reader better understand the paper?

Does it Work?

What do you think? Does Chisholm’s exercise for implementing student peer reviewing help? What other tips would you suggest?

About the Author: Emil Towner is Assistant Professor of Business Communication in the Marketing Department.

Learning Styles: What Do You Need to Know?

By Emil Towner

Photo of female student looking at laptop while relaxing outside.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Four Learning Styles

Can we categorize learning styles in a way that helps professors educate today’s college students? The answer is yes…and no.

David Kolb and Roger Fry identified four basic learning styles:

  1. Converger—strong in practical application of ideas
  2. Diverger—strong in imaginative ability and seeing things from different perspectives
  3. Assimilator—concerned with abstract concepts rather than people
  4. Accommodator— solves problems intuitively and performs well when required to react to immediate circumstances

While those categories provide a general understanding of potential differences, they do have their limitations. For example, Mark Smith points out six key issues that arise out the model of learning styles:

  1. It pays insufficient attention to the process of reflection.
  2. The claims made for the four different learning styles are extravagant.
  3. The model takes very little account of different cultural experiences/conditions.
  4. The idea of stages or steps does not sit well with the reality of thinking.
  5. Empirical support for the model is weak.
  6. The relationship of learning processes to knowledge is problematic.

The Value of Learning Styles

Despite those concerns, Smith quotes Mark Tennant to describe the value in the categories of learning styles:

“The model provides an excellent framework for planning teaching and learning activities and it can be usefully employed as a guide for understanding learning difficulties, vocational counseling, academic advising and so on.”

Your Turn…

What does all of this really mean? Leave a reply below and let us know if you use learning styles and, if so, how.

Better yet, offer an example or activity that other faculty members can use to incorporate learning styles into their classrooms.

About the Author: Emil Towner is Assistant Professor of Business Communication in the Marketing Department.

Threshold Concepts


stavropoleos courtesy of fusion_of_horizons

stavropoleos courtesy of fusion_of_horizons

Information Literacy Standards

If you’ve ever heard an academic librarian talk about information literacy, the librarian was most likely referring to the concept as defined by The Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, adopted by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) in 2000. This document describes in great detail five information literacy standards and further delineates performance indicators and outcomes for each standard. The standards are being revised into a less prescriptive format called the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. This framework is scheduled to be adopted by ACRL this fall.

Threshold Concepts

The new framework is organized around threshold concepts. To learn more about threshold concepts I read Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practicing within the Disciplines, a seminal document by Jan Meyer and Ray Land cited in the framework.

Characteristics of Threshold Concepts

According to Meyer and Land, threshold concepts include following key characteristics (pp. 4-5):

  • Transformative: When a student understands a threshold concept, the student’s perception of the subject shifts.
  • Irreversible: Once learned, the concept is not forgotten which can lead to the “difficulty experienced by expert practitioners looking back across thresholds they have personally long since crossed and attempting to understand (from their own transformed perspective) the difficulties faced from (untransformed) student perspectives” (p. 4).
  • Integrative: The concept reveals disciplinary connections previously unknown to the student.
  • Troublesome: Troublesome knowledge is frequently counterintuitive such as the fact that heavier objects do not fall faster than lighter objects. 

Information Literacy Threshold Concepts

The Framework like the standards before it acknowledges that each information literacy concept will look different depending on the discipline. The Framework lists six information literacy threshold concepts:

  1. Scholarship is a Conversation
  2. Research as Inquiry
  3. Authority is Contextual and Constructed
  4. Format as a Process
  5. Searching as Exploration
  6. Information has Value

Teaching the Threshold Concepts

This fall I plan to explicitly address two of the threshold concepts in my teaching. Since I generally meet with students one time I want to focus on a concept that I can integrate into a one-shot session. I’ve chosen to focus on searching as exploration. Not quite sure what I’m going to do yet but I feel that my teaching during library instructions has gotten a little stale so I’m up for the challenge.

In addition to my library instruction sessions, I meet with students one-on-one during research consultations. Research consultations complement our information literacy program by extending the one-shot session. I meet primarily with graduate and doctoral students in the School of Education. Consultations generally last 30 to 60 minutes and present the perfect opportunity to discuss scholarship as a conversation.

What do you think?

What are the threshold concepts in your discipline? What teaching strategies do you use to introduce threshold concepts to your students?

About the Author: Robin Ewing is an Associate Professor in the library and is currently the assessment librarian.

Learning Styles and Digital Media

By Emil Towner

Picture of laptop and film canister

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Should college professors incorporate digital media into a classroom to engage students with different learning styles? Despite today’s push for flipped classrooms and social media communication, the answer cut and dried.

For example, Cedar Reiner and Daniel Willingham discuss the myths and realities of learning styles and argue that “students may have preferences about how to learn, but no evidence suggests that catering to those preferences will lead to better learning.”

So…Why Use Digital Media?

Although including multimedia may help hold student attention and add variety to course material, Reiner and Willingham argue:

“We shouldn’t congratulate ourselves for showing a video to engage the visual learners or offering podcasts to the auditory learners. Rather, we should realize that the value of the video or audio will be determined by how it suits the content that we are asking students to learn and the background knowledge, interests, and abilities that they bring to it.”

In other words, Reiner and Willingham believe digital media should be incorporated only after considering the abilities of specific students and their background experiences or familiarity with the subject.

By doing so, professors can shift the conversation from “Did I engage the right senses?” to “What did students think about while they were in class?”

What Do You Think?

When and why should digital media be incorporated? How do you measure the success of digital media used in your course?

Leave a reply below to help other faculty members tackle these challenging questions.

About the Author: Emil Towner is Assistant Professor of Business Communication in the Marketing Department.

Learning and the Brain

Brain By dierk schaefer

Brain By dierk schaefer

How does the brain impact learning?

Recent research on how the brain processes information may have significant implications for teaching and learning. According to Clemons, for successful brain-based learning to occur “everyone involved in the learning process (online course developers, educators, students) to understand the structure of the brain and consciously focus on learners needs and styles to evaluate and improve the course format and delivery system.”


  1. Six Tips for Brain-Based Learning Emphasize feedback and embrace the power of novelty are two tips that resonated with me.
  2. The 2013 CETL Spring Forum featured Dr. Stephen Carroll who shared his work on meta-cognition. For more about his work and for the slides he used in his presentation and workshop, please go to http://metalearninghabits.org/slides-for-st-cloud-lecture/.
  3. [ebook] How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, Eds., 1999)  I found the chapter on how novices differ from experts particularly interesting with regards to how I teach library research.
  4. In 2011, CETL sponsored a special workshop on Learning and the Brain and recorded the sessions.
  5. The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain by Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek.

What about you?

  • What’s one way you could incorporate how the brain works into your teaching?
  • Do you teach differently to freshmen than you do to seniors? How so?
  • How do you create a safe classroom environment for learning?
  • What resources have you used to learn about the brain?

About the Author: Robin Ewing is an Associate Professor in the library and is currently the assessment librarian.

What’s Wrong With Student Participation? (And How Do We Fix it?)

Photo showing empty rows of chairs

Image courtesy of “smokedsalmon” on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Most of us want students to be engaged in class, but how do you:

  • Define participation?
  • Record and grade it?
  • Provide meaningful feedback on it?

Those are the questions addressed in an article on participation policies, written by Maryellen Weimer (professor emerita at Penn State Berks and editor of The Teaching Professor newsletter). Continue reading

Want to try student peer review in your class? Check out these resources.

Photo from college.library


What is student peer review?

Student peer review, sometimes called peer editing, is a teaching strategy that requires students to provide constructive feedback on each other’s work. Here are some resources to get started:

  1. Introducing Students to Peer Review of Writing
    Richard Chisholm introduces peer review to his students by first having them practice on a piece of his own writing.
  2. How to Plan and Guide In-Class Peer-Review Sessions – Washington University in St. Louis
    This guide provides guidance on how peer review can fit into your syllabus from the scheduling to the grading.
  3. Using Peer Review to Help Students Improve Their Writing – Washington University in St. Louis

Already using peer review? Consult these resources on how to improve the process.

  1. Improving Student Peer Feedback [StarID required to access]
    Linda Nilson describes the potential pitfalls of peer review and offers advice on overcoming the challenges.
  2. Peer Editing Could Use Some Revision [StarID required to access]
    Trela Anderson describes how to improve peer editing and decrease student frustration.

What about you?

  • How would you prepare your students for peer review?
  • How could peer review improve your students’ learning?
  • Would peer review increase or decrease your grading load?

About the Author: Robin Ewing is an Associate Professor in the library and is currently the assessment librarian.