Sara Goodman, Department of Population Health and Disease Prevention

What are high impact course activities?

Having ten-week quarters challenges faculty members and teaching assistants to get the most out of their students in a short amount of time. High impact learning activities include “frequent, timely, and constructive feedback, periodic, structured opportunities to reflect and integrate learning, and interactions with faculty and peers about substantive measures.” (Kuh, O’Donnell and Reed). High impact course activities can also be used to improve information literacy and help grow a learning community (Riehle and Weiner). One study shows that these practices can help improve student learning and help students get the most out of their undergraduate education (Kilgo, Sheets and Pascarella). Writing and submitting parts of the final paper in an introductory undergraduate public health class in a large research university is an example of using high impact learning activities for a 400 student 10-week class.

Implementing High Impact Activities in Class

In this class, the primary summative assessment is a ten-page paper about a specific public health problem such as childhood obesity. One way to use high impact learning activities is to have the students submit parts of the paper as formative assessment for extra credit points such as a topic proposal, first paragraph, reference list, and conclusion paragraph for instructor feedback. Another way to give the students feedback and foster interactions with faculty, instructors, and peers includes incentivizing students to meet with their teaching assistants or professor for extra credit. There, students can workshop their papers and use their instructors as a soundboard. It is also an opportunity to ask questions about career development. This is especially important in the first class of a discipline, where students are still trying to figure out their undergraduate major.

Applying High Impact Learning Activities to Real World Applications

This final paper assignment is also an opportunity to discover the relevance of learning through real world applications. We encourage the students that this paper explaining a public health problem is a funding pitch to a city or county council. We want them to find relevant data and statistics to support their claim, for example that childhood obesity is an increasing problem among the Latinx community in Southern California. We want the students to build their research skills, and in addition to introducing them to public health databases and data repositories, we are training them as researchers.

Ideally this paper could be used as a writing sample when applying to internships as part of the Bachelor’s in Public Health degree or to master’s programs. This will also create a research foundation for other papers outside their major. In general, students who meet with their teaching assistant or instructor on a regular basis tend to get better grades on their final paper and we can help them develop their writing skills. This is also a way to help diverse learners focus their ideas and learn academic and argumentative writing.

Employing high impact learning strategies connects course readings, course assessments, and final projects in an introductory class to improve students writing and research abilities. Using a real-world application encourages students to take what they have learned and apply it to grant funding or employment applications.


Kilgo, Cindy A, Jessica K Ezell Sheets, and Ernest T Pascarella. “The Link between High-Impact Practices and Student Learning: Some Longitudinal Evidence.” Higher Education 69.4 (2015): 509-25. Print.

Kuh, George D, Ken O’Donnell, and Sally D Reed. Ensuring Quality & Taking High-Impact Practices to Scale. AAC&U, Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2013. Print.

Riehle, Catherine Fraser, and Sharon A Weiner. “High-Impact Educational Practices: An Exploration of the Role of Information Literacy.” College & Undergraduate Libraries 20.2 (2013): 127-43. Print.

Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on December 2nd, 2019.