Higher Education

Creative Activity as Undergraduate Student Research

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Many institutions, including my own, include creative activity from art, music, theatre and other disciplines as part of undergraduate student research. Given the creative nature and output of these disciplines, what can this look like?

A recent discussion on the Council on Undergraduate Research Member Forum addressed this very question. Most participants seemed to agree that creative output was radically different from more “traditional” research. They also agreed that under the rubric of undergraduate research, it must go beyond the performance or the production of art.  Iain Crawford, Shirley Huston-Findley, Peter Mowrey, and Kitty McManus Zurko argue that there are aspects of research undertaken by students in the fine arts that mirror undergraduate research at large, including mentorship by a faculty member and the development of a research question. In addition, students such as those in theatre “apply their research in a laboratory setting–in this case, on stage–and test their hypothesis through artistic engagement. . . . The result for most majors is a keen awareness of the historical, theoretical, and analytical components necessary for artists to move from investigation to application” (24). Crawford et al apply the language commonly associated with STEM-based research, the language of experimentation, to performance.

Crawford et al also link the inquiry-based nature of undergraduate research to music performance:  “Student performers are expected to have undertaken a thorough review of literature (written and musical) and significant research into historical context, style, and performance practice prior to (and during) the preparation of their culminating recitals. . . . Some of this research will make it into their required accompanying documents, which usually take the form of extended program notes addressing selected aspects of the recital program for a theoretical and/or musicological perspective” (28). While all students may be required to undertake a recital as part of their music major, those involved in undergraduate research undertake additional work that grounds and contextualizes the performance.

In both cases, creative activity as undergraduate research represents something more. It is a systematic and deliberate approach to performance and art, which is at the heart of the research process. The result differs from more traditional research in that its evaluation may be more subjective. Yet, because the student engages in the major parts of the research process, they receive the same benefits from the high impact practice as their counterparts in other disciplines. At the same time, students engaged in creative activity also produce products that parallel that of other disciplines, such as artist statements and program notes for recitals, both of which reflect “a serious review of literature, a high degree of critical thinking, experimentation, thorough evaluation of alternatives, creativity and great attention to detail” (Crawford et al, 26).



Crawford, Iain et al. “Undergraduate Research in the Fine Arts at the College of Wooster.” Creative Inquiry in the Arts and Humanities: Models of Undergraduate Research. Eds. Naomi Yavneh Klos, Jenny Olin Shanahan, and Gregory Young. Washington, DC: Council on Undergraduate Research, 23-32.


Higher Education

The Role of Implementation in High Impact Practices

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The mere existence of high impact practices does not produce results. Much depends on the way such practices are implemented.

High impact practices are a set of experiences that have been shown to improve student learning. Recently, Inside Higher Education reported on research published in The Journal of Higher Education that suggests that such practices do not lead to improved learning and higher graduation rates.  Marjorie Valbrun reports that the study concluded that “the graduation rates at colleges that incorporated all the practices were not higher than those that used few if any of the practices.” Such conclusions suggest that “examining the connection between the recommended practices and institutional outcomes was important because of the widespread use of the practices ‘at the expense of other possible offerings'” (Valbrun). This could lead some to suggest that we abandon high-impact practices for other types of activities.

Soon after, George Kuh, author of High Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter (2008), and Jillian Kinzie penned a response in Inside Higher Education, raising an important, overlooked aspect of the study. In addition to the circumstances of the students, they argue that “simply offering and labeling an activity a HIP does not necessarily guarantee that students who participate in it will benefit in the ways much of the extant literature claims.” In other words, the high-impact practice needs to be deliberately structured to achieve certain results. Its mere existence will not create positive results for students.

Much like when we teach classes, we need to envision what we hope to accomplish when we embark on a high impact practice in our institutions and how we seek to meet those goals. More importantly, we have to think about how such experiences will impact the student and what the student will take away from the experience. Are we simply adding a line to a student’s resume for a job or a cv for graduate school? Are merely creating data points for institutional data? Or, are we providing an experience and tangible products from that experience that students can share?

This is something I’m working on as I continue to implement our institution’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) for reaccreditation, which is undergraduate research, a high-impact practice. Creating ways to leverage these experiences will also make them more meaningful to students, who sometimes overlook the continued benefit of the experiences for later in their lives and focus on just doing them. One possible approach is combining high-impact practices. In addition to undergraduate student research, the overview of “High-Impact Educational Practices” published on the Association of American Colleges & Universities site lists other HIPs that may reinforce the positive impact of undergraduate research. I’m thinking of how making undergraduate research collaborative and culminate in projects or encouraging students to create research portfolios from their classwork may increase the positive impact of undergraduate research.

What is clear is that we must give careful thought not just to implementing such practices, but how we implement such practices.



“High-Impact Educational Practices.” Association of American Colleges & Universities  https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2018/05/01/kuh-and-kinzie-respond-essay-questioning-high-impact-practices-opinion (10 May 2018).

Kuh, George D. “What Really Makes a ‘High-Impact’ Practice High Impact?” Inside Higher Education 1 May 2018. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2018/05/01/kuh-and-kinzie-respond-essay-questioning-high-impact-practices-opinion (10 May 2018).

Valbrun, Majorie. “Maybe Not So ‘High Impact’?” Inside Higher Education. 25 Apr 2018. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/04/25/study-questions-whether-high-impact-practices-yield-higher-graduation-rates (10 May 2018).


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The Role of Implementation in High Impact Practices by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Project Updates

Ask the Rogue Adviser!

road-sign-808733_1280When I go to conferences, I often end up answering questions from members of the audience after the presentation. Or, I’ll have random conversation with students from other institutions about my work. I’m happy to give others the benefit of my 18+ experience in academia as an active researcher of cultural studies. But why wait for a conference? If you are an undergraduate or graduate student, ask me your questions here, and I’ll tell you what I know!  I won’t post your name, but if I can answer your question, I’ll post the question and answer.  You can ask me about my work (see the site!), the research process  and the college experience!