Worcester Polytechnic Institute

A Planning Program for Worcester Polytechnic Institute: The Future of Two Towers - Part Three: A Model


In this section the educational tools, proposed degree requirements, advisor set-up, and school calendar are discussed. Because a primary objective of the college should be to teach the student to learn, and because this process is highly individualistic, it seems advisable to have as little formal curricular structure as possible. The lack of structure has the virtue of providing at once the flexibility needed and the requirement that the student develop the self reliance characteristic of a truly educated person.

A. Educational Tools.

1. Projects and Independent Study.

Since it is a primary objective to "teach the student to learn" for himself, and since the successful project or independent study program requires learning those facts and techniques necessary to solution of problems, projects and independent study become a major educational tool. This device also has the potential of aiding in motivating the student because the relevance of the various library and course materials is made evident. Normally it is expected that the student will put a minimum of 25% of his load, averaged over a 4-year period into this part of the program. Projects will be of two principal types.

(a) Research and development projects of the type common to most technical college research programs.

(b) Humanistic-technological projects. Examples of these projects might be: the effect of a new north-south toll road on the people of central Massachusetts; the economic, technical, and social implications of a law restricting pollution of the Blackstone river; VISTA; and UNICEF. It is this type of involvement which is designed to bring the student to a familiarity with technology as a service to society, leading him to a sense of professionalism in the sense of assuming responsibility for some area of society's needs, and showing him the relevance of his studies of human behavior.

It is believed essential that a fair fraction of the projects be centered off-campus, in industry or in society at large, the College retaining control on the acceptability of the problem. This belief is based on the need for emphasis on the reality of technological work.

2. Courses.

While the projects and independent study will provide motivation, practice in problem solving, and practice in learning, it seems essential that courses be offered to bring coherence to what has been learned in the projects. Further, some special kinds of instruction will have to be provided to lead the student from the curricular disciplines of the American secondary schools to the unstructured system proposed. It is, of course, hoped that the student will want to take some courses merely to satisfy his curiosity. It is expected, therefore, that three main types of courses will be offered.

(a) Courses designed to supply preliminary information and a transition to WPI's unstructured system. These will hopefully be confined to the first two years. Considerable experimenting will be required in this area.

(b) Short courses of the "how-to-do-it" type to aid in acquiring specific techniques as they are needed (Library usage, computer programming, report writing, graphics, shop practice). These might eventually be replaced by video tapes.

(c) Summary courses. These would be of the lecture-supervision type. In these courses (offered especially to upperclassmen and certainly to graduate students) it is expected that the student is already familiar with the subject matter through contact in his project work and his own reading. The lecturer can, therefore, bring his own unifying and/or unique approaches to the material. Supervisors, meeting with four students at a time, can answer questions brought by the students and go over solutions to specific problems.

While it is the right of the instructor to assume that the student has done or is doing some ancillary reading, there will be no prerequisites required for registration for a course.

B. Degree Requirements.

The degree given will be Bachelor of Science. Students may "major" in a Study Group or Division Area. While it is believed that the College should not assume the obligation to educate the student but provide an atmosphere in which the student who so chooses can become educated, and while it is believed that the student should be allowed to follow his own best course toward that education, it is essential that the degree be awarded only to those students who have educated themselves. The following degree requirements are suggested:

1. Acceptable advanced-level work on two projects or independent study programs.

(a) It is strongly urged that at least one of the qualifying projects be of the humanistic-technological type.

(b) It is strongly urged that at least one of the qualifying projects be centered off-campus.

Advanced level work must produce a tangible result (usually in the form of a written report) which shall be judged not only for technical content but also for manner of presentation both by the project supervisor and external examiners. All results shall be subject to spot check external to the College. Grades will be assigned for all project work as follows: A = Acceptable AWD = Acceptable with Distinction NA = Not Acceptable

2. A minimum residence of two years is suggested because of the importance of the environment to be established. (It can be argued that with proper supervision in the project work, the above requirements will produce a better evaluation of the student's capability than has been possible heretofore, and that the above requirements provide a sufficient basis for awarding the diploma. It can also be argued that to ensure to ourselves and to the world at large that the program is achieving its objectives, a further testing of the student's ability to learn on his own is desirable. For this latter case the additional requirements listed below are suggested.)

3. Examinations.

(a) A comprehensive examination in a division or study-group area.* This examination may include oral as well as written parts, should be of the "open-library" type, and must be the work of the student alone. Care must be exercised that it not be possible to "cram" for the examination. The student's efforts must not be oriented toward passing the examination. Comprehensive problems, research proposals, design problems, and comparative work are suggested possibilities. In any case the examination should confront the student with the unfamiliar.

(b) Two "sufficiency" examinations in areas other than that of the comprehensive, at least one of which should be in a different division from that of the comprehensive.

Grades for these examinations shall be A or AWD (an unsuccessful attempt is not recorded), and the examinations may be taken at any time after matriculation with the approval of the student's advisor. All examinations and grading thereof are subject to external review and on a spot check basis external to the college. Hopefully there will be contributions of examination questions from outside the College.

There are no formal course requirements for the degree, but there is some opinion that grades of A, AWD, or NA should be assigned to the course work and so recorded to give the student some indication of the quality of his work. The grades may be determined by any method the instructors develop.

One of the advantages of this set of degree requirements is that the instructor is removed as much as possible from the dual role of counsel and judge.

When the student has completed the above requirements, his advisor submits his name to the Academic Council* for recommendation to the faculty, and thence *See proposed Organization of the College. 16 to the Board of Trustees.

There is some concern that in spite of the high tuition cost some students who consistently fail to do acceptable work will not want to leave the College even when counselled to do so by their advisors. If such a thing should happen with enough students, there is the danger that a critical mass of inactive students might obtain and thus drag the performance of the entire student body downward. For this and other more obvious reasons it is suggested that the Academic Council be empowered to require that a student terminate his work at the College.

Physical education will play an important role in the overall development of the future students. While it is anticipated that physical education courses would not be required for graduation under the recommended program, all students, throughout all four years, would be urged to participate in physical education courses and intramural activities. The present general level of intercollegiate competition seems appropriate for the future. It is suggested that under the recommended program the physical education faculty be given a higher degree of responsibility in the counseling activities of the College.

C . Advisors.

The entering student is assigned to an advisor who sees the student through the program. It is the Council of Advisors, by virtue of their familiarity with student needs, who determine what kinds of projects are needed and what courses should be offered.

Because of the unstructured nature of the program it is essential that the student records be computerized so that the advisors can have at hand all information for counseling the student. Obviously, the project supervisor may have the best and closest contact with the student and can give considerable assistance to the advisor.

The exact relationship of the student to his advisor will depend in large measure on the student living group structure.*

* See "Co-ordination of College Community Life with Academic Purpose..."

D. The School Year.

Tentatively it is suggested that the school year be divided into four eight-week terms. This would provide flexibility in course offerings, project logistics, and scheduling. The student would carry four units of work each term. Courses may extend for from one to four terms, depending on the objectives. There would also be an optional eight-week summer term. A typical school-year calendar might be:

29 September - 22 November First term
1 week vacation
1 December - 19 December
2 weeks vacation
5 January - 6 February Second term
1 week vacation
16 February - 11 April Third term
1 week vacation
20 April - 12 June Fourth term
1 week vacation
22 June - 15 August Summer term

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