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

Michael Elmes (Department of Management, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA)
Eleanor T. Loiacono (Department of Management, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA)

International Journal of Organizational Analysis

ISSN: 1934-8835

Article publication date: 13 March 2009

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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

Citation

Elmes, M. and Loiacono, E.T. (2009), "Project‐based service‐learning for an unscripted world: the WPI IQP experience", International Journal of Organizational Analysis, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp. 23-39. https://doi.org/10.1108/19348830910948887

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited