Examining the Efficacy of High-Impact Practices and Democratic Engagement Within a Side-by-Side Community-Based Learning Course

Cyndi Rickards, Ed.D.

Brennan Lied, Undergraduate Research Fellow



My research, with Dr. Cyndi Rickards, focused on the high impact practices, democratic engagement, and development of 21st century skills within CBL (community based learning), side-by-side format courses. Primarily, my focus was on identifying utterances and occurrences of democratic engagement and/or high-­‐ impact practices within class presentation videos and interview transcripts. These utterances were coded in ATLAS.ti using a priori codes (predetermined codes). These predetermined codes were derived from a report developed by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U). This report, A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy's Future, discusses the role of civic and democratic engagement in education, specifically higher education. The a priori codes for democratic engagement were four codes adopted from the AAC&U’s A Crucible Moment and included: Knowledge, Skills, Values, and Collective Action. Additionally, references to high‐impact practices or instances of high‐impact practices were coded for as ‘High‐Impact Practice’.

About Side-by-Side

As part of Drexel University's commitment to democratic engagement, civic learning, and 21st-century skills, the Side-By-Side community-based learning format was introduced in 2012. This high impact course format brings together traditional Drexel students and disenfranchised community students from the surrounding West Philadelphia neighborhood, as equal participants in a postsecondary course. Although the courses have received high course evaluations, there has been no formal research on this course format. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to determine the efficacy of this community-based course format in the acquisition of the necessary 21st-century skills.

For more information on Community Based Learning and Side-by-Side, please click here.

The Side-by-Side blog can be found here.


Interview transcripts and class presentation videos were analyzed for the presence of quotations, utterances, or instances that fit the descriptions of one, any, or all of the five a priori codes. Quotes that contained a code‐able utterance could be coded with more than one of the a priori codes, so that co­occurrences could be identified, quantified, and exemplified.


There have been some emergent themes and occurrences that deserve consideration. In each course, there have been predominant codes that have occurred distinctively more often than other codes, and these predominant codes seem to change with the course subject; with exception to the ‘high-impact practice’ code, which occurs relatively consistent throughout. Likewise, there is a distinct variance in the occurrences of codes between the class presentation videos and the interview transcripts. Each medium seems to have distinct characteristics that lend to a difference in what is coded for, even though the course topic is unchanged between corresponding document mediums.