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Project-based service-learning for an unscripted world: the WPI IQP experience

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Abstract:

Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to describe the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) interactive qualifying project (IQP) as a unique, project-based service-learning opportunity that offers teams of undergraduate students the opportunity to frame and investigate complex, unscripted problems with social and technological dimensions for non-profit organizations and government agency sponsors. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper discusses the relationship of the IQP to the service-learning literature, describes the proposal and delivery phases of the IQP, and then offers two short illustrative cases. Findings ‐ The paper concludes that IQPs teach students how to frame and use background research to investigate unscripted, real world problems. It teaches students to think critically, to improve their presentation skills, and to become more aware of the social and cultural dimensions of technology. For faculty, IQP advising enriches their relationships with undergraduate students and can sometimes lead to co-authored publications. For the university, the IQP program is a source of positive publicity and good will from project center communities around the world. Practical implications ‐ The findings of this study might be useful to those schools and faculty interested in starting a service-learning project program with a technological focus. Originality/value ‐ Projects can provide a unique service-learning experience for undergraduate students. By focusing on problems at the intersection of society and technology, the WPI IQP sensitizes engineering and science students to the human dimensions of technology. It teaches students to grapple with unscripted problems that require an extensive background research, rigorous data collection, and thoughtful analysis.

Keywords: Higher education; Problem solving; Students; Team working; United States of America

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/19348830910948887

Publication date: 2009-03-13

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