Assessing Undergraduate Learning

We assess our undergraduates' educational experience through internal project and course-based assessment and through the NSSE and EBI surveys, external nationwide student activity instruments. In addition, WPI has adopted university wide values and undergraduate student learning outcomes.

Projects-based assessment

The WPI faculty adopted a project-based curriculum in 1970 called the "WPI Plan." Central to the "Plan" is creating a learning environment in which WPI undergraduates demonstrate their ability to use knowledge acquired in courses and elsewhere by completing three capstone projects in the following domains:

The Disciplinary Major (the Major Qualifying Project or MQP)
A nine-credit-hour project seniors complete in their major field, usually involving design or research.
Interdisciplinary Studies (the Interactive Qualifying Project or IQP)
A nine-credit-hour project carried out, usually by juniors, on a topic relating science and/or technology to societal issues and structure.
Humanities/Arts
A three-credit hour project students complete to culminate their overall 18-credit-hour minor in a topic of their choice in the Humanities or Arts.

Through projects, WPI students demonstrate to themselves and their future professional colleagues that they can pull together what they have learned in courses to solve a challenging problem. WPI projects are usually done in teams, often with topics provided by off-campus organizations (like the ones students may later study or work at). Often these projects are carried out at an off-campus site.

To analyze the effectiveness of these capstone projects, in the 1980's WPI faculty began assessing student learning as reflected in the written reports required for each project.

Download Sustaining a University-wide Approach to Comprehensive Outcomes Assessment (PDF) to learn how WPI has evolved its approach to student outcome assessment over its history.

Course-based Assessment

WPI faculty assess student learning in courses as well as projects. See how faculty teaching Calculus (Mathematics) and Signals and Systems (Electrical and Computer Engineering) review their assessment practices, including course design, delivery, evaluation, and learning/communications skills outcomes.

National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is a survey of how students indicate they use their time for various kinds of academic and non-academic activities. The designers of NSSE argue that students who spend more time on educationally-beneficial activities are more likely to learn effectively. (For more information on NSSE, see their Web site.)

WPI administered the NSSE to first and fourth year students beginning in the academic year 2000-01. To enhance the value of the data, the WPI assessment team invited participation of peer institutions through the Association of Independent Technological Universities (AITU.) Roughly half the AITU universities agreed to collaborate in crafting a set of AITU-consortium questions for NSSE that focused on ABET (engineering) learning outcomes. In the academic years 2000-01, 01-02, 02-03 and 05-06, WPI and the AITU consortium gathered data to establish a solid baseline. The consortium intends to administer the NSSE survey every three years, with the next survey in 2008-09.

WPI has used its NSSE results to confirm the value of our emphasis on project-based education in the last two years of the four-year program. NSSE data show that WPI students report self-confidence in mastering the engineering fundamentals at a rate similar to our AITU peers. We also found that a new experimental mentoring and advising program for first-year students ("Insight") received very strong positive feedback when first implemented. As a result, the Insight program was funded for full-scale implementation earlier than anticipated. For more information, visit the First Year Experience Web site.

Educational Benchmarking (EBI) Survey

WPI graduating seniors in engineering have completed the EBI (Educational Benchmarking) surveys in 2000, 2001, 2002, and plans to use it in 2006 and 2007. WPI uses these results to identify areas where our graduating seniors indicate their overall academic experience has been less positive than those reported by seniors at similar universities.

Fortunately, WPI seniors have reported consistently strongly positive responses about WPI in almost all areas of the EBI survey. One area of concern, however, is the nature of the WPI first-year math program; a Task Force on the WPI First Year worked on those issues in the 2002-03 academic year.

First-year Student Outcomes

In fall 2002, WPI began a major review of our first-year learning programs, driven in part by data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) that indicated WPI students, compared to first-year students elsewhere, were not as much engaged in educationally-beneficial practices.

The following section will be of interest to anyone wishing to see how NSSE results can shape curricular discussion and improvement.

Texts available at this site include:

  1. Provost John F. Carney III's charge to the First Year Task Force to review existing WPI programs. (PDF)
  2. Review of Findings from the 2002 NSSE Report, indicating where WPI first-year students reported experiences better or worse than students in comparison groups. (PDF)
  3. Examination of 2001-02 NSSE Benchmark Changes between 2001 and 2002. (PDF)
  4. Attitude Survey Results: PLC and Control Groups, a major study showing how a Project-based Learning Community addresses many of the weaknesses first-year students had disclosed in the two NSSE reports (#2 and #3 above) (PDF)
  5. Grade Analysis: 2002-03 Tutorial (PLC) Program, showing responses of Calculus students in the PLC and Control groups (PDF)
  6. 2002-03 PLC Focus Groups, discussing differences between two PLC groups offered in 2002-03. (PDF)
  7. Final Report of the Provost's First Year Task Force (PDF)

Faculty, students and staff continued working on the first year program under a Commission established by Dr. Dennis Berkey, when he became president in 2004. Among the changes made were reinstituting the position of Dean of Undergraduate Studies and creating a new position of Associate Dean for the First Year Experience. In 2006-07 students and faculty are developing a proposal for some new course structures to provide several alternative routes through the WPI first year.

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Last modified: December 01, 2008 13:33:47