Enhancing Skill Development: The Potential of High Impact Practices

09 Dec 2019 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By David B. Strohmetz, Ph.D., University of West Florida and Natalie J. Ciarocco, Ph.D., Monmouth University

Increasingly, faculty are being asked to incorporate “high impact practices” into their classes. This can be a confusing request as many of us may already believe we are making our courses “high impact.” At the same time, we are being asked to find opportunities for improving the career-readiness of our students. However, these two goals are not mutually exclusive. We can make our high impact practices even more impactful if we more intentionally integrate skill development into these experiences.

The label of “high impact practices” (or HIPs) can be, in large part, attributed to the work of George Kuh and his colleagues (Kuh, 2008). They identified participation in certain educational experiences as related to important student outcomes such as improved academic performance, increased retention, and greater self-reported gains in learning. What makes HIPs “high impact” is that these educational activities require meaningful student investment of time and effort as well as substantive interactions with faculty and diverse others (Kuh & O’Donnell, 2013). HIPs provide students opportunities to engage in real world applications of their classroom learning and reflect upon their learning. Examples of HIPs include collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research, writing intensive courses, internships, and capstone courses and projects. Quality HIPs require students to engage in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and problem solving. We would argue that what makes HIPs particularly impactful is that they also provide opportunities for students to develop and practice the types of skills that employers desire in recent college graduates (Fabris, 2015; Hart Associates, 2018).

Given that the majority of undergraduate psychology majors directly enter the workforce after graduation, increasing attention is being given to the skills students should be developing to facilitate their success in the workforce (Landrum & McCarthy, 2018). Appleby (2014) identified seven broad skills employers value in recent college graduates: communication skills, critical thinking and research skills, collaboration skills, self-management skills, professional skills, technological skills, and ethical skills. These skills reflect the types of activities which are characteristic of HIPs, meaning HIPs might serve multiple outcomes for our students, namely deeper learning and career preparation.

HIPs which involve appropriately setting performance expectations; investment of significant time and effort; and frequent, timely, and constructive feedback can help students build their professional and self-management skills. Collaboration skills are also reinforced in HIPs that involve substantive interactions with others and experiences with diversity. For example, common HIP activities such as learning communities or collaborative assignments and projects require students to work together to achieve desired educational outcomes. Other notable HIPs such as writing intensive courses, undergraduate research, and capstone courses not only build communication skills, but are also likely to strengthen critical thinking skills. Internships, service learning, and community-based learning provide students with opportunities to develop and practice a number of employable skills.

To learn if participating in HIPs might be related to one’s perceived skill efficacy, we examined data collected from 1,125 undergraduates through our website, http://www.employableskills.com. This website provides students with the opportunity to engage in a self-assessment of their employable skills. Students complete the Employable Skills Self-Efficacy Scale (Ciarocco & Strohmetz, 2018) and then receive feedback on how their perceived confidence levels compare to other students. We also give students tips on how they might strengthen their employable skills. Among the demographic information we collected, we asked whether the respondent had completed an internship or participated in research, two common types of HIPs. We found a consistent pattern in self-efficacy differences between those who either did or did not participate in an internship and/or research-related experiences. Students who had completed an internship were more confident in their communication, analytical, collaboration, and professional development skills. Students who reported engaging in research reported more confidence in their analytical skills than those who had not. 

Our data suggest that students who engage in these types of HIPs feel more confident in their employable skills, which is encouraging given that this type of skill development was probably not the focus of these activities and more likely a happy by-product.  To strengthen our students’ career preparation, we encourage faculty to be more intentional about skill development when incorporating HIPs in their courses. There are many ways to include skills development while engaging your students in HIPs (for more details, see Ciarocco & Strohmetz, 2020). Some ideas include highlighting skill development on your first and last days of class, as well as in your syllabus. You might also ask students to reflect on the skills they have developed through their high impact experiences and help them translate those skills to interviews and application materials. With a little re-tooling of your HIPs to intentionally include skill development, you have the opportunity to help your students become deeper learners and more confident about their skill sets at graduation.



Appleby, D. C. (2014). A skills-based academic advising strategy for job-seeking psychology majors. In R. Miller & J. Irons (Eds.), Academic advising: A handbook for advisors and students, Vol. 1: Models, students, topics, and issues, pp. 143–156. Retrieved from http://www.teachpsych.org/Resources/Documents/ebooks/advising2014Vol1.pdf

Ciarocco, N. J., & Strohmetz, D. B. (2018). The Employable Skills Self-Efficacy Survey: An assessment of skill confidence for psychology undergraduates. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology4, 1-15. doi:10.1037/stl0000102

Ciarocco, N. J., & Strohmetz, D. B. (2020). Psychology for the Workforce: Using the Classroom to Help Students Develop and Market Their Employable Skills? In T. Ober, E. Che, J. Brodsky, C. Raffaele, & P. J. Brooks (Eds.). How we teach now (Volume 2): The GSTA guide to transformative teaching.

Fabris, C. (2015). College students think they’re ready for the work force. Employers aren’t so sure. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/article/College-Students-Think/151289

Hart Research Associates (2018). Fulfilling the American dream: Liberal education and the future of work. Washington, DC: Association of American College and Universities.

Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. AAC&U, Washington, D.C.

Kuh, G. D., & O'Donnell, K. (2013). Ensuring quality & taking high-impact practices to scale. Washington, DC: AAC&U.

Landrum, R. E., & McCarthy, M. A. (2018). Measuring the benefits of a bachelor’s degree in psychology: Promises, challenges, and next steps. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology4(1), 55–63.

Dr. David Strohmetz is Chair and Professor of Psychology at the University of West Florida.  Dr. Natalie Ciarocco is a Professor of Psychology at Monmouth University.  They frequently work together to promote undergraduate professional development and best practices in the teaching of research methods. Their collaborations include developing a self-administered assessment of employable skills (www.employableskills.com), authoring with another colleague the innovative textbook, Discovering the Scientist Within: Research Methods in Psychology, and creating the teaching resource www.teachpsychscience.org.

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