Stephen F. Austin State University

Information for Faculty and Staff

Make an Impact at S F AThe top 10 jobs in 2010 did not even exist in 2004. Knowledge is no longer a stable or scarce commodity. While today's students have access to more information than ever before, the critical thinking skills needed to digest it are often lacking. In response to this national issue, Stephen F. Austin is engaging in a program called, "Make an Impact at SFA." This program will provide resources to faculty to enhance course content with the kinds of high impact practices that have been demonstrated to promote higher order thinking skills such as critical thinking, creativity and which have been demonstrated to help students analyze and synthesize what they learn both inside and outside of the classroom. While the proposal is quite complex, we've answered some of the most common questions below. If you have further questions, contact Dr. Randy McDonald, Director of the Office of High Impact Practices at rmcdonald@sfasu.edu.

Applications to participate in the next faculty learning community focused on field-based learning will be available in the spring.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is SFA doing this project?

Most importantly, this project was created to address issues discovered through assessing our educational programs. Additionally, the university is currently engaged in our reaffirmation of our accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) which occurs every ten years. As you know, accreditation is essential to continuing to operate effectively as an institution. This project fulfills the requirement to submit a "Quality Enhancement Plan" that is part of the process of reaffirmation.

What is "Make an Impact at SFA?"

Make an Impact is a program that provides resources to selected faculty to use "high impact" practices in their courses. These practices have been demonstrated by decades of research to improve student learning and success.

This kind of learning…

1) …demands that students devote considerable amounts of time and effort to purposeful tasks.

2) …puts students in circumstances that essentially demand they interact with faculty and peers about substantive matters.

3) …increases the likelihood that students will experience diversity through contact with people who are different than themselves.

4) …gives students frequent feedback about their performance.

5) …provides opportunities for students to see how what they are learning works in different settings, on and off the campus.

6) ...students connect personally and professionally to others through opportunities for active, collaborative learning.

Doing one or more of these activities in the context of an academically challenging curriculum that provides opportunities for active, collaborative learning increases the odds that students will be prepared to persist to graduation and develop higher order thinking skills.

Is this concept new?

No. In fact, many SFA faculty are already using some form of High Impact Practices in their courses. What is new is the scale on which we will be doing this. Over time, it is our goal to have sufficient participation so that each student will encounter some sort of high-impact course in their first year and one later connected to their major.

Will faculty have to do this?

No. Faculty or staff who wish to apply may be selected to receive specialized professional development opportunities.

How will this work?

This program will offer this opportunity to twenty-four faculty or staff each semester who would like to enhance their learning in this area through a Faculty Learning Community (FLC). Those who teach a freshmen seminar course (SFA 101) are also eligible to apply. This program will offer specialized development opportunities to faculty and staff each year who would like to enhance their learning in this area. They will then implement these practices in at least one course in the following semester.

Those who are selected for this program will receive resources to help them implement these learning opportunities. To learn more, read, "What's in this for me?"

What do the students get from high-impact practices?

These educational practices have been demonstrated to improve students' higher order thinking skills like critical thinking, creativity and help students analyze and synthesize what they learn both inside and outside of the classroom. High-impact practices have also been shown to improve retention and academic performance of students, including persistence to graduation. With more than half of all SFA students coming from families where neither parent has completed a baccalaureate degree, our students face significant challenges. Engaging with high-impact practices in their courses can help them to face these challenges more effectively. In fact, according to George Kuh, these practices are most effective with students who come in less academically prepared and more at-risk based on their socio-economic status.

How does "Make an Impact at SFA" improve the quality of the institution?

Student engagement is significantly enhanced by participation in High-Impact programs. According to Alexander Astin (1984) the positive effects of student engagement are a deeper sense of commitment to the institution, improved retention, better grades and higher graduation rates. Each of these affects would help to significantly improve the quality of the Stephen F. Austin Experience.

What's in this for me?

One of the most frequent issues for today's faculty are motivating and engaging today's learner. High Impact practices have a demonstrated impact on the motivation of students. Students engaged in these kinds of experiences tend to be more self-motivating and ultimately more successful. As student success is ultimately our greatest goal, this program should assist you in meeting that goal. We realize that developing these kinds of courses takes time and effort. Faculty selected for the Faculty Learning Community will be able to choose the resource that is most beneficial. They may choose between a one-course release, a graduate assistant or a stipend. SFA 101 instructors who are selected for this program will receive a stipend.

This sounds expensive, aren't we in a budget crunch?

In this economic climate, you wouldn't expect to see new programs developing. This project, however is required by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Each institution must submit a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) that addresses an issue of concern identified by our assessment. Additionally, SACS requires that institutions commit sufficient resources to support the QEP. While the timing may not be optimal, we believe that the impact on student learning will more than justify the modest expense.

Will I be required to do any type of assessment?

Yes, you will be required to administer the Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CAT) as well as three formative assessments at certain times during the semester. For each of these assessments adequate training will be provided.

Click here for the implementation schedule.