What are High-Impact teaching practices?

Categories HE Sector, Learning & Teaching

Just because it’s sunny here, doesn’t mean that I’m not working hard! At the start of this year’s AAFS, I attended a day-long workshop called High-Impact Practices in Forensic Science Education. It was Chaired by Gina Londino-Smolar and Dr Karen S. Scott and was supported by the Council of Forensic Science Educators.  The main aim was for attendees to:

“learn how high-impact practices can be used in forensic science education and discover how to adapt their courses using common programing for students by: (1) identifying and describing a variety of high-impact practices; (2) recognizing useful high-impact practices dependent on the environment; and (3) discovering innovative high-impact practices that could be incorporated into their classroom.”

The question as to what in holy Hell high-impact practices are was addressed in my previous post. I was keen to attend because I’m always interested to see how other institutions deliver forensic courses and how they address the challenges we all face in the HE sector. There’s always some good practice that we can learn from and look to apply at home. And the advantage of doing that here in the States is that its easier to pass off any good ideas as my own back in the UK…

My tweeted summaries of the talks are below, embedded for your delectation:

This first one was interesting because his university seemed to have parallels with my own. Although the talk was a bit short, the underlying data presented seemed to show that their interventions were working. Basically if you support your students to feel connected to your institution, course and staff, they’re more likely to succeed.

This second talk I found a little frustrating. The idea of LLCs is an interesting one, whereby students of the same degree major are homed together in shared accommodation which allows for tailored extra-curric activities. But the evaluation of it’s success seemed anecdotal and I was left feeling uncomfortable that a self-selecting group of students was receiving special treatment and getting access to more opportunities than the other students – opportunities that seemed to be giving them an advantage. This wasn’t really addressed in the Q&As afterward. Basically if you support your students to feel connected to your institution, course and staff, they’re more likely to succeed.

This was a great case study showing how strong links with local forensic labs allows for the creation of a module with a super-realistic application. Students worked through a case file 9-5, five days a week and came out with a stronger sense of the wider forensic context, and how private forensic labs work.

The pair of speakers here was good fun. The issue they had was that no-one wanted to visit their University. So instead, they created three field trip modules where students went away touring forensic labs and settings and then completed coursework on that experience. The success of their course meant that they were swimming in alumni in important labs who supported the new students.

Here, the speaker used her experience as a death investigator to support her students as they worked through actual data and case files in the missing persons databases. They’ve been able to submit new info the to NamUs database, but her students found it challenging while completing their assessed reports if there was no positive outcome.

I’m sorry to say that I did not enjoy this talk at all. It was too dense and monotonous, and then the kicker at the end was that student feedback for this work was poor, but the academic was going to carry on regardless.

The final talk explored how it is possible to capture the additional activities and developments that our students experience while at University and how it can be pulled together into an e-portfolio. Basically if you support your students to feel connected to your institution, course and staff, they’re more likely to succeed.

So on reflection,  how can we build on these talks and push the topic forward? I’m glad you asked…

  1. We have to get better at evaluation. Anecdotal comments have their place, but nothing is as useful as data-driven and evidence-based intervention. The evaluation process starts before the intervention, with the planning, not after it’s been done.
  2. High Impact is not really a thing. I’m not convinced there was much High Impact work going on, but that’s not to say that the work wasn’t influential. Active learning is, for me, a more appropriate title.
  3. Let’s embrace the digital age! Those pesky kids are, so we should be too. The VLE doesn’t count…
  4. Great partnerships with the forensic and legal sectors really enhance the learning and understanding of our students. There were some brilliant example on display here, but the nature of the forensic sector in the US compared to the UK, gives US academics greater opportunity to collaborate in marvelous ways.  We need to do our best to ensure that all students get an equal chance of participating.
  5. All of the speakers demonstrated a huge commitment to their students. We need to shout about this more, especially in these times when we see universities come under increasing (and often unfair) criticism.
  6. We’ve got to publish our work. Sharing good practice through the peer review process can be very helpful. My personal preference is to publish in disciplinary journals – this helps remove the notion that teaching is somehow less relevant to the discipline. Also, very few people I know go out of their way to read pedagogical journals. Although that may be more of a damning statement of my friends and colleagues than anything else…

Since taking on the Journal of Forensic & Legal Medicine, I’ve put greater focus on the educational aspect of its remit. It’s always been there, but it is a bit more overt now. I’m really pleased that currently three of the Top Ten articles with the most social media attention are education related. We have also been bringing a set of short and timely commentaries to you all. This has been partly to support my fellow educators:

“As someone who also teaches at a university, I soon realised that these short commentaries made for excellent in-class resources which I could ask students to read quickly and then comment on and debate more broadly. Thus to support you as lecturers and educators, we have pulled them all together into one convenient place. We hope that you and your students find these freely available resources useful and insightful – and that they stimulate the same lively discussions in your classes as they do in mine.”

Outside of my own Journal, Dr Max Houck‘s Forensic Science International: Synergy seems to be fast becoming a significant home for pedagogical papers in the forensic sciences – helped by it’s open access remit.

At yesterday’s COFSE AGM, my application to join was approved. There are some exciting opportunities for us in the UK to work with, and learn from, the US-based COFSE members and I’m looking forward to starting those conversations. I mean, not right now, I’m about to head off for breakfast, but you know what I mean. I think we all just need to be a little better at actually demonstrating that our innovative work in the classroom is having a positive impact on student engagement / attainment / transformation etc so that we can scale up and transfer these activities.

I'm a Professor of Applied Biological Anthropology at Teesside University.