Worcester Polytechnic Institute

A Planning Program for Worcester Polytechnic Institute: The Future of Two Towers - Part Four: A Plan


A. Introduction

The educational Goal of the College, already adopted by the faculty, necessitates a complete revision of the techniques used to evaluate student development. Each discipline has its own characteristics; it would be unwise, therefore, to suggest a common procedure for all evaluations in specific terms. Just as the Plan provides for greater flexibility in curricular programs, so should it provide for greater diversity in evaluation procedures. Here there would be an excellent opportunity for the faculty to take an empirical approach to the development of meaningful methods of determining student competence and understanding.

The new program would involve the use of new educational procedures, and it is important that these be understood in relation to the entire Plan. The evaluation techniques suggested below should be regarded as an effort to describe the intent of these educational tools, rather than as specific recommendations for testing practices.

1. Study-Conference. The Conferences associated with Study-Conferences would provide a natural and continuous means of evaluating student performance. There would be no need for the traditional grading of homework; the regular weekly Conferences, lasting two and a half hours with no more than six student participants each, should enable the instructor to obtain a good insight into each student's comprehension of the material under study. If additional information were needed, term papers or problem lists could be used. While the primary purpose of problem lists is to provide additional information regarding the student, the lists would also provide the student with valuable experience in his preparation for the Comprehensive Examination.

2. Study. The absence of the associated Conference in this type of course would probably mean that the instructor would resort to more traditional methods of evaluation such as tests or problem lists. The real test of the student's comprehension in any course would come when he would use his knowledge in his IS/P work, but it would be natural that both student and instructor would want some more immediate method of evaluating achievement. Since the grade obtained in any Study would not have a direct bearing on the student's graduation, it would be hoped that innovative evaluation techniques would be used whenever possible.

3. Independent Study. While the faculty member under whom the student would carry on an independent study project might suggest a bibliography, develop a set of experiments to be performed, or answer questions raised by the student, the student should set the pace of the work and must be responsible for the results obtained. Evaluation should be made on the basis of the student's final report. This report might be given in a number of different forms. For example, there might be a substantial written report, or a collection of laboratory reports together with an abstract of the results, or a combined oral and written report, or a series of lectures presented to interested students and faculty. The January Intersession would provide an occasion for the lecture presentation. No matter what form the report would take, it should be reviewed and graded by several individuals, including the faculty supervisor and, whenever possible, a visiting scholar or other off-campus expert.

4. Project Student participation in projects would vary con- siderably, depending on the type of project and the student's pre- vious experience. Normally, the project supervisor would be most able to evaluate the student's performance effectively; if the number of participants were large, supporting evidence from assistant supervisors or others connected with the project might be obtained. If the project were off-campus, comparable evaluation standards would be obtained, since the College would control all projects, Each project would require a final written report.

Obviously, if the project is to satisfy a graduation requirement, the quality of the student's work, the report, and the results obtained should be of high calibre. Evaluation of student performance ought to be subject to both internal and external review. The supervisor should submit a detailed qualitative statement of the student's participation, based on that review, to the advisor, as well as a grade of Not Acceptable (NA), Acceptable (A), or Acceptable with Distinction (AD).

5. Comprehensive Examination. The Comprehensive Examination would play a significant role in establishing the competence of a student in his major area of study. Since the student would have already been evaluated in Study-Conferences, Studies, and IS/P, it is important to consider how the Comprehensive Examination might contribute to the total evaluation of the student. Here it is well to keep in mind that all the new degree requirements have been designed to support the educational Goal of WPI. It would seem, therefore, that a meaningful Comprehensive Examination should place emphasis, not on what the student might know, but rather on what the student could accomplish with his knowledge in a situation he had not previously encountered.

This type of examination would require considerable effort in its preparation. Some disciplines might find that annual prize competition problems prepared by professional societies would be useful as Comprehensive Examinations. Others might wish to ask colleagues from other campuses or industry to submit questions or problems. Both of these suggestions emphasize the importance of the generation of questions by outside experts, not only to insure credibility of the examination but also to provide for a greater diversity in the type of question or problem posed. Above all, no single format or time schedule should be determined; each discipline would, through experimentation and review, develop its own form for the Comprehensive Examination. Nevertheless, successful completion of the examination should be indicative of the student's ability to make effective use of his knowledge.

6. Sufficiency Examination. The Sufficiency Examination would provide an opportunity for the student to be evaluated in an area of secondary interest. Whereas the Comprehensive Examination would measure the student's competence as a potential professional, the Sufficiency Examination should measure the student's competence as an amateur in an area that might well serve as an avocation.

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Last modified: Fri Mar 5 15:28:11 EST 1999