WPI to host institute on project-based learning

Those teams will work toward self-defined goals to promote project-based learning on their own campuses by partaking in interactive group activities as well as workshops centered on such subjects as faculty development, integrating project-based learning into STEM courses, and partnering with external organizations for project-based learning.

“Project-based learning isn’t just an educational tool, it fundamentally enhances the potential of knowledge to empower students to become the leaders and impactful change agents our world needs to meet the challenges we face,” said WPI President Laurie A. Leshin. “WPI is so passionate about this approach to teaching and learning that we want to share our expertise and deep experience to help other academic institutions advance project-based learning on their own campuses in ways that make sense to them.”

Under the direction of Richard F. Vaz, dean of interdisciplinary and global studies, 20 WPI faculty and staff members will guide educators in developing strategies for integrating project-based learning into their curricula.

The participants include educators from liberal arts, technical, and community colleges, state universities, and institutions of higher education in India and Saudi Arabia.

In 1970, WPI launched the WPI Plan, an approach to learning that requires students to apply acquired skills and abilities to solve real-world problems as they complete two major projects. In the first, the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), students, often in small teams, work under the guidance of faculty advisors to identify and develop recommended solutions to problems that lie at the intersection of science, technology, and societal issues and needs. The second, the Major Qualifying Project (MQP), requires students to address and solve real-world, professional-level problems in their major discipline.

“Since 1970, we’ve seen students rise to the occasion time after time, solving real-world problems with creative solutions, learning to work in a professional environment and to apply what they’ve learned in school,” said Arthur Heinricher, WPI’s dean of undergraduate studies. “This greatly benefits the development of our students as professionals who forge change and improvements in the world around them. It is the paramount reason why we are hosting this institute for other schools.”

WPI launched a global component to its project-based curriculum in 1974 and now sends students to 40 project centers around the world, where they work in teams on their required projects under faculty direction to focus on issues such as energy, food, health, and urban sustainability. A recent WPI study revealed project-based learning has significantly impacted the professional abilities, interpersonal and communications skills, and professional advancement of alumni, and has also enhanced their world views.

“This study confirmed what we have believed for decades,” said Vaz, “that giving students a social context in which they can apply what they have learned has enormous benefit to their personal and professional lives.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.

Laura Ascione

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