Assessment and Evaluation

IMPULSE Improves Retention and Performance at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

The Integrated Math, Physics, Undergraduate Laboratory Science, and Engineering (IMPULSE) program is "a learning community that combines an integrated curriculum with active collaborative learning, teamwork, and the latest technology". It offers a two-semester sequence (11 units per semester) for first-year engineering and physics majors that integrates mathematics, physics and introduction to engineering. The sequence includes the following courses: Physics for Scientists and Engineers I & II, Introduction to Applied Science and Engineering I & II, and Calculus for Applied Science & Engineering I & II. Each course is taught by a faculty member, assisted by an undergraduate teaching assistant (a junior or senior hired by the professor) and technical support staff. Students progress through the sequence in cohorts. Each professor assigns the grades for his/her own course. When they give assignments that span more than one course, each professor incorporates outcomes from these projects into the grades for their individual course.

The IMPULSE program combines:

  • a curriculum that is informed by research about how students learn physics and mathematics, and that integrates calculus, physics and engineering;
  • a student team-based approach to learning;
  • three "studio" classrooms (size 48 students), equipped with networked engineering workstations set up with up-to-date math, physics, and engineering software, and reserved specifically for this program.

Superior Performance in Calculus: In the graph below the group of bars on shows scores on the eighteen common questions of the first-semester calculus final. It shows the students in the prototype group (IMPULSE I) and students in the institutionalized implementation (IMPULSE II) scored significantly higher than the group of students in the pre-IMPULSE curriculum (Fall 1998 Comparison). The numbers show that almost all of the IMPULSE students (96%, 94%) took the final exam compared with 72% of the students in the comparison group.


Superior Completion Rates in Calculus and Physics: The graph below shows the percentage of students who successfully completed first-year sequences in calculus and physics. For calculus, over 66% of the IMPULSE students in either year completed calculus I and II while less than 48% of the students in the comparison group completed a comparable calculus sequence. For physics, over 70% of the IMPULSE students completed physics I and II while less than 44% of the students in the comparison group completed a comparable physics sequence.


Foundation Coalition References

Pendergrass, N.A., Laoulache, R.N., Dowd, J.P., and Kowalczyk, R.E. (). "Efficient Development and Implementation of an Integrated First Year Engineering Curriculum," Proceedings, 1998 Frontiers in Education Conference, Tempe, Arizona, November 1998

Pendergrass, N. A., Kowalczyk, Robert E., Dowd, John P., Laoulache, Raymond N., Nelles, William, Golen, James A., and Fowler, Emily, "Improving First-year Engineering Education," Proceedings of the Frontiers in Education Conference, San Juan, Puerto Rico, November 1999

Dowd, J.P., R. Laoulache, R.N., and Pendergrass, N.A. (1999). "Project IMPULSE: Teaching Physics In An Integrated Studio Based Curriculum For Freshman Engineering Majors," Proceedings, 1999 ASEE National Conference, Charlotte NC, 20-23 June 1999

Pendergrass, N.A., Laoulache, R.N., and Fortier, P.J. (2000). "Mainstreaming an Innovative 31-Credit Curriculum for First-Year Engineering Majors," Proceedings, 2000 Frontiers in Engineering Conference, Kansas City, Missouri, 18-21 October 2000

Pendergrass, N.A., Kowalczyk, R.E., Dowd, J.P., Laoulache, R.N., Nelles, W., Golen, J., and Fowler, E. (2001). "Improving First-Year Engineering Education," Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 90, no. 1, January 2001, pp. 33-41.

Pendergrass, N.A., Laoulache, R.N., and Fowler, E. (2001). "Can An Integrated First-Year Program Continue To Work As Well After The Novelty Has Worn Off?" Proceedings, 2001 ASEE National Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico, June 2001