WPI Announces New Center for Project-Based Learning

A Pioneer and Leader in Project-Based Education, WPI Creates Center to Help Other Colleges and Universities Implement Experiential Learning in Their Own Curricula
January 25, 2016

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Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) announced the launch of the Center for Project-Based Learning this evening at a reception held at the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ (AAC&U) 2016 Annual Meeting. The new center builds upon the university’s 45 years of leadership in this impactful form of education, as well as the overwhelming success of the Institute on Project-Based Learning, which the university launched in partnership with the AAC&U in 2015. The Center for Project-Based Learning will deepen the level of support that WPI provides to colleges and universities who are looking to implement project-based learning on their own campuses.

"WPI's approach to education is built around project-based learning because it exposes students to real-world experiences and challenges them to be strong leaders, collaborators, and change agents," said WPI President Laurie A. Leshin. "We know this approach to teaching and learning is invaluable to the development of engaged, capable, and passionate citizens.

"As a pioneer and a leader in experiential learning, WPI is creating the Center for Project-Based Learning so we can help other academic institutions by sharing best practices and providing tools and customized guidance and support so that this type of education can take hold within varied curriculums. Our goal is to enable more students to have access to an educational approach that can truly change lives—for the betterment of all."

Since 1970, project-based learning has been the core of WPI’s undergraduate curriculum. Known as the WPI Plan, this approach builds upon WPI’s core philosophy of balancing theory and practice in education. The WPI Plan is a flexible and academically rigorous program that synthesizes classroom experience with projects that challenge students within important professional and social contexts. Throughout their four years at WPI, students work closely with faculty—and each other—on projects that allow them to apply their acquired skills, knowledge, and abilities to develop solutions for authentic, open-ended, real-world problems—both within their own communities and in communities around the globe, through WPI's 45 off-campus project centers. Working within their major and in general education, the WPI Plan allows students to master critical thinking, sharpen research skills, fine-tune written and oral communication skills, and connect their learning to local and global issues.

More than four decades after the launch of the WPI Plan, the university’s approach to education remains powerfully effective. A recent UMass Donahue Institute study of WPI alumni revealed that project-based learning has significantly enhanced their professional abilities and advancement, their interpersonal and communications skills, and their world views. The program, which also remains distinctive within higher education, has become a model for other colleges and universities, largely thanks to market demand for schools to better prepare students for the real world and the job market.

WPI's leadership position was highlighted again earlier this month when the National Academy of Engineering announced that the university—and four individual faculty members—will be awarded the 2016 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education in April. WPI is investing $250,000 of that prize purse into the Center for Project-Based Learning, and one of the faculty prize recipients, Richard F. Vaz who, as dean of interdisciplinary and global studies since 2006 has overseen the significant expansion of WPI's Global Projects Program, will lead the new center.

"WPI has a model for undergraduate education that almost any other institution of higher education could learn and benefit from," said Vaz. "I'm thrilled to be leading the Center for Project-Based Learning because I think it has the potential to improve higher education for students and faculty globally."

The Center for Project-Based Learning will offer:

• Annual Institutes on Project-Based Learning – An intensive two-and-a-half-day program hosted and run by WPI on its campus, this workshop was created for teams of faculty and administrators from other institutions to help them learn best practices and, with guidance from WPI faculty and administrators, develop action plans to advance project-based learning initiatives within their own curriculums. The 2016 Institute on Project-Based Learning, offered again in partnership with the AAC&U, will be held June 22–25; applications are being accepted through February 15, 2016.

• Custom Workshops and Seminars – Tailored to the participating institution’s interests, goals, and level of experience with project-based learning, these will be conducted onsite at their campus, and are designed to include a mix of interactive activities, collaborative team exercises, and teachings using proven examples of how to implement project work into varied curriculums.

• Consultation Visits by Project-Based Learning Experts – WPI has a diverse team of faculty representing disciplines in the humanities, engineering, sciences, and business with expertise in all facets of project work. Drawing from this talent pool, the Center for Project-Based Learning will offer participating institutions consultation and mentorship by WPI faculty members whose expertise aligns with their own institutional goals and needs. These experts will provide guidance for leadership teams, curriculum committees, departments, or interdisciplinary groups to set goals for project-based leaning and make progress toward these goals.

• Materials, Tools, and Examples on How to Implement Project-Based Learning – In order to advance this proven pedagogy within higher education, the Center for Project-Based Learning is building a library of resources for use in the classroom and across the curriculum.

• Support for Project-Based Learning at WPI – On campus, the Center for Project-Based Learning will offer workshops and seminars, advising materials, mentoring and Faculty Fellowship opportunities that engage WPI faculty broadly in the work of the Center.