Tool Kit Resources: Campus Models & Case Studies

High-Impact Taxonomies: Designing Faculty Development Tools at IUPUI


Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) has a long and successful history of using high-impact practices (HIPs) to engage students inside and outside the classroom.

National research and IUPUI’s own assessments show that students who participate in HIPs—including first-year seminars and experiences, common intellectual experiences, learning communities, collaborative assignments and projects, service learning, internships, and eportfolios—are more likely to be retained or graduate on time, and the campus has worked to increase access to these practices for all students.

“At IUPUI, we’ve been doing high-impact practices for a very long time. We’ve done great work and have been nationally recognized for it,” said Jennifer Thorington Springer, director of the IUPUI RISE Initiative and associate professor of English.

However, until recently, campus administrators struggled to answer one of their most pressing questions about HIPs: how could they ensure that these practices were not only available to students, but were done well?

According to Julie Hatcher, executive director of the Center for Service and Learning at IUPUI, a lot of research on high-impact practices treats them as “a dichotomous variable,” measuring whether students participate or don’t participate in HIPs and then making correlations to student learning outcomes. “What we don’t know enough about is what the various dimensions [of high-impact practices] are and how those various dimensions influence student learning outcomes.”

To learn more about HIPs and improve opportunities for students, “the next step was to look at the quality of the actual high-impact practices, and we thought it would be critical to develop a tool to help faculty think about how to do this work well and how to be intentional about it,” Springer said.

These tools, which the campus refers to as “taxonomies,” are transforming the curriculum and faculty development around HIPS at IUPUI.

Designing High-Impact Taxonomies

Many of IUPUI’s HIPs are connected through the RISE Initiative, which was established in 2008 to work with offices and centers across campus to ensure that all undergraduate students participate in two or more high-impact practices. Faculty tag their courses as one of the four elements of RISE:

  • Research opportunities led by faculty and built into the curriculum
  • International travel and learning tied to course pedagogy
  • Service-learning experiences that help the local community
  • Experiential learning through professional practice

RISE has successfully increased access to HIPs; in both the 2017 fall and 2018 spring semesters, more than six thousand students enrolled in over five hundred RISE courses, each including a high-impact practice and providing students with opportunities “to reflect on their experience and see their development over time,” Springer said.

Figure 1. RISE currently has eight taxonomies and plans to create a ninth for eportfolios:

However, RISE has also faced three critical challenges: (1) it was focused on for-credit courses, excluding the many cocurricular practices available outside of coursework; (2) it began as a top-down initiative, with little input from faculty; and (3) it was difficult to maintain and assess fidelity of courses with a RISE notation—because the tagging of courses is decentralized and done by faculty, a course might be tagged as an R, I, S, or E, but when a new instructor begins teaching the course they may not continue using the high-impact teaching practice.

Inspired by AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics and the California State University (CSU) system, Kathy Johnson, IUPUI’s executive vice chancellor, asked offices and centers with responsibility for research, international study abroad, service learning, internships, and other curricular and cocurricular practices to create eight taxonomies to ensure fidelity to RISE requirements and to serve as faculty resources for design and assessment (see fig. 1).

Getting Faculty to Buy In

RISE brought together administrators, faculty, and staff from each of the centers or offices that oversee HIPs to review existing research (from George D. Kuh and others) to identify the attributes of effective high-impact practices in general. This larger committee broke off into eight smaller teams, each tasked with reviewing the research about a specific HIP, identifying best practices, and compiling a list of five attributes to include on the taxonomy (see fig. 2).

Figure 2. Service Learning Taxonomy (click to enlarge)


One challenge in the taxonomies project, which depends on faculty participation, was a worry from some faculty or staff that the taxonomies could be used to assess their teaching. To counteract this perception and foster faculty support, the eight taxonomy teams asked faculty to provide feedback and made sure to address that feedback in future revisions.

Engaging faculty was easiest for practices centralized within a single program or office, like IUPUI’s themed learning communities (TLCs), which are cohorts of twenty-five first-year students who study together in a series of seminars and general education courses around a single theme.

Each spring, learning community faculty gather together to plan their courses and activities for the fall. “I have them all in one room at the same time, which is a huge advantage in doing this work,” said Amy Powell, director of themed learning communities. “We were intentional about presenting the taxonomy as a draft, as a pilot, and that we wanted their feedback. . . . We took their feedback and then made significant changes.”

The teams for other HIPs, like service learning or internships, worked with stakeholders spread across various departments and offices. They built or leveraged existing committees, communities of practice, or faculty learning communities to request feedback for revision.

Despite bringing faculty together around each HIP, it was difficult to garner wider faculty buy-in across campus. To help, the service-learning team held a webinar about its members’ experiences using the taxonomies, and RISE hosts a workshop series attended by more than one hundred faculty, many of whom hope to use taxonomies to create a new high-impact experience for students. In these workshops, Springer is careful about the language she uses to describe how the taxonomies guide course and program design.

“We didn’t use the word ‘improve,’ because that appears judgmental,” Springer said. “So, we used the word ‘enhance’ a lot. We reminded faculty that they’re doing a great job, but here’s how we can enhance what’s being done.”

Springer also made clear to faculty the ultimate goal of the taxonomies: “We want to make sure that students get the most benefit out of what it is we’re doing. And once the focus was switched to students and student success, the faculty were all on board.”

This attention to language applied to the taxonomies themselves. To ensure consistency across the various HIPs and to signal that faculty were not being judged for their work, the themed learning communities team recommended that the three stages of achievement for practices be dubbed “high impact,” “higher impact,” and “highest impact” (see fig. 2).

For a course to maintain its status as a RISE course, “you don’t have to be at the very top. You can stay within ‘high,’ because that says you’re doing a high-impact practice,” Springer said.

“I really appreciate the way they’re phrased and designed because they’re much more open,” said Jay Gladden, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate education, dean of University College, and dean of Honors College. The taxonomies tell faculty, who may be trying to design a HIP for the first time, “Hey, we’re glad you want to try something different, and we’re glad you want to employ a strategy that is considered a high-impact practice, and we want to help you do that, to evaluate the work, and to think through how you do the work with students.”

High-Impact Professional Development

In their first two years, the taxonomies have enhanced HIPs on campus in several ways. They provide guidance to faculty when creating learning experiences, help program offices evaluate what faculty development is needed, and help to ensure greater fidelity between courses and RISE requirements.

“As soon as a program becomes more clearly defined, it’s much easier to say this is going well and here’s where we need to focus our energy,” Powell said.

The Center for Service and Learning has sponsored two faculty learning communities to introduce the taxonomy as a tool to support course design and scholarship of teaching and learning projects. The center asked faculty to use the taxonomy to map their own performance and possible action steps to create deeper learning experiences.

Each element of the Service Learning Taxonomy begins, “The instructor . . . ” (see fig. 2). Rather than having faculty apply a rubric to student artifacts, this phrasing allowed the Center for Service Learning to create a student survey that faculty can use for self-assessment.

For internships, Matthew Rust, director of Campus Career and Advising Services, said his office used the internship taxonomy to develop a course for students who cannot take an internship through an existing course in a major. The office also produced a template internship course in the institution’s learning management system and held a workshop introducing it to internship course instructors across campus.

In the biggest change brought by the internship taxonomies, courses provide more opportunities for students to reflect on their experience while also providing a platform for employers to give feedback.

“And that’s been the biggest cultural shift that we’re working toward, where we’re viewing internships not simply as a matter of serving time or logging hours worked, but as students actually being able to articulate learning as they’re going through that experience,” Rust said.

When themed learning community faculty gather each spring, they use taxonomies to plan the following year’s courses and activities. In August, they turn in their plans to Powell’s office, and after each semester they use a survey to assess their individual performance and their team’s performance on the five attributes.

Because the same faculty often teach within the same learning community year after year, the planning process is “an opportunity to revisit the taxonomy,” Powell said. “I encourage each team to get to the high-impact level in each attribute and then pick one or two other attributes to strive for higher or highest to make it aspirational.”  

After two years of using the taxonomy, she has already seen “significant changes.” For example, the taxonomy calls for each team to do at least one out-of-class activity. In 2015–16, before using the taxonomy, the thirty-nine themed learning communities conducted thirty-four out-of-class activities. One year later, after introducing the taxonomy, they did one hundred activities. This year, there were 123 out-of-class activities.

Students highly value these activities. On an end-of-term survey, they responded positively to the connections they made:

  • “I liked all the trips we took to museums, festivals, and places of worship regarding many different religions.”
  • “I learned a lot about the TLC theme and am applying it in several places outside of class.”
  • “I liked making a deep connection with a large group of people and forming a large support network with instructors.”
  • “I really enjoy all of my professors; they were there for me both in and outside of the classroom. It truly made me feel like I was in my own community and felt like I was treated like family.”

Once faculty see that the learning communities program provides support for implementing HIPs, including help with planning and logistics, “faculty want to do it. It’s fun, it’s exciting to connect with their students,” Powell said.

Powell also worked with the Center for Service Learning to design experiences for themed learning communities that wanted to incorporate service learning as their out-of-class activity.

“But we wound up doing it much more in-depth than that,” Powell said. “We mapped out attributes from both taxonomies and said, ‘If you’re going to do these together, what should they look like? What would the bar be? And how do you do them in a way that’s truly integrative?”

To increase the participation in HIPs for all students, IUPUI is in the process of creating an Institute for Engaged Learning. This institute will work with faculty and staff teams to create meaningful education pathways through the intentional scaffolding of curricular and cocurricular learning. The HIPs taxonomies will be an important tool in guiding the development of these pathways.

“These taxonomies are going to be very helpful and will undergird the work we’re doing in creating the institute,” Gladden said. They will “help faculty understand what a high-quality engaged-learning activity looks like.”

Already, the communication fostered by the taxonomies is bringing more faculty on board, but the leaders of the project are careful not to lose focus of their ultimate goal—ensuring high-quality student learning experiences.

The faculty and staff working with the taxonomies—including IUPUI's Institutional Research and Decision Support office—are exploring ways to directly assess the effects of the redesigned HIPs on the student learning outcomes they enhance.

“We have such amazing faculty here that are so invested in this type of work,” Powell said. “It’s really faculty facing, it’s fun, it’s exciting, and the faculty are engaged and they want to do this at a high level. But the reason that we do this is the impact it’s going to have on student outcomes.”