ERIC Number: EJ1180050
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2018
What Makes a Senior Thesis Good?
Trosset, Carol; Weisler, Steven
Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, v50 n1 p47-53 2018
Kuh (2008) describes the capstone as a "culminating experience" students undertake close to graduation often involving "a project of some sort that integrates and applies what they've learned" (p. 11). The senior thesis is one form of the capstone in which students write an analytic paper under faculty supervision, typically as a prerequisite for receiving honors, and less frequently as a general graduation requirement. As is the case with all "high-impact practices" (HIPs), senior theses are argued to increase students' engagement in their education and lead to improved outcomes. This is especially true when the students participate in multiple HIPs. Between 2009 and 2013, the authors worked with a consortium of seven private liberal arts colleges funded by the Teagle Foundation. Senior theses play an important educational role at all seven of these institutions, though each implements them differently. To study how students experience the process of writing a senior theses, the authors developed the Senior Thesis Experiences Survey. Survey questions covered the nature and origin of the student's topic, how regularly and for how much time the student worked on the thesis, various aspects of how the student worked with the faculty adviser, how the student felt about issues like the importance of writing a thesis and whether they had worked harder than they expected to, and how well the first three years of college had prepared them for various dimensions of thesis work. The survey was administered electronically to all thesis-writing students on all seven campuses in Spring 2012 and on four of these campuses in Spring 2013, with 798 seniors completing the survey. Their thesis areas were distributed almost evenly between humanities and arts, social sciences, and natural sciences, including psychology. Findings showed that student experiences of working on senior theses vary widely, mostly around three dimensions: student preparation, faculty supervision, and student commitment. Only student preparation predicted the quality of the thesis as measured by the rubric. Grades assigned by faculty advisers, and student self-assessments, were more closely related to supervision and commitment. This conflation may limit what students can gain from working on senior theses. Using rubrics as teaching tools may enhance learning outcomes by showing students how to evaluate the quality of their own work.
Descriptors: College Seniors, Theses, Student Surveys, Writing Evaluation, Scoring Rubrics, Supervision, Writing Processes, Scores, Grades (Scholastic), Self Evaluation (Individuals), Educational Quality, Evaluation Methods
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A