At the beginning of this semester, we were asked to reflect on our own experiences with High Impact practices, and my first thought was my first 360º experience in undergrad.
It was called Women in Walled Communities, and it was a cluster of three courses I took in the Fall of my sophomore year. I was still undecided, and this cluster filled the niche of topics I wanted to spend all my time exploring: education, sociology, feminism, power, privilege, voice, and silence. WWC consumed me. In a cohort of fifteen, my classmates and I spent three hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays in back-to-back Education and English classes where we thought together about how to facilitate voice in the classroom and what it means to be silenced or to choose silence. On Fridays, we packed up peanut butter sandwiches and apples from the dining hall, bundled together into two college vans, and met our professors at a local Philadelphia county women’s prison. Nearly thirty women (fifteen college students, three professors, and as many female inmates could get time and permission to attend) then squeezed into a single trailer for an art-facilitated seminar about how we are represented and how we represent ourselves.
I learnt most in that class about how to learn: by making connections across classes and building on my interdisciplinary peers’ expertise in philosophy, sociology, chemistry, education, math, and more, I discovered a new way of exploring questions. This interdisciplinary and connected way of learning radically differed from the siloed style with which I’d grown both complacent and disenchanted. In addition, the mix of traditional classes and community-based learning (all in a cohort!) meant I formed deep and lasting connections with my classmates and, perhaps even more significantly, with my professors. More than any other space I’d been before, my professors served as true mentors. They met with each of us regularly outside of class to check in and collaborated with us in structuring the course elements so that we had individualized and relevant experiences. At the end of the semester, my classmates and I facilitated a campus teach-in that helped us feel our work was grounded and valuable.
The experience facilitated the integration and application of ideas across contexts; it made space for relationship-building with peers, and mentorship from faculty; and it developed my sense of intellectual agency through independently designed and creative projects.
WWC was the reason I decided to design my own major, and it led to the publication of my first essay (Abbot, 2013). I was so engaged by this experience, I wrote my senior honors thesis on these course clusters. Though this kind of transformation may seem somewhat unique, in research for my senior thesis, I found many other students described similarly impactful 360º experiences. I didn’t have the language of high impact practices then, but the elements I described as transformative in these courses are what I would consider defining characteristics of HIPs. The experience facilitated the integration and application of ideas across contexts; it made space for relationship-building with peers, and mentorship from faculty; and it developed my sense of intellectual agency through independently designed and creative projects. In the following semester, I became an advocate for my own learning in new ways, in large part because this course cluster made me wish all my courses had these same elements. Little did I know, I was advocating for more High Impact Practices!