UW Study of Undergraduate Learning (UW SOUL)

The University of Washington's Study of Undergraduate Learning (UW SOUL) was a longitudinal study conducted by researchers in the Office of Educational Assessment from 1999-2003. The study tracked 304 undergraduates through their UW experience in order to gather information that would help us improve teaching and learning. The study was designed to discover what undergraduates learned, how they learned fit, what obstacles or challenges they faced along the way, and how they assessed their own learning in six areas:

  • writing
  • problem solving/critical thinking
  • quantitative reasoning
  • understanding and appreciating diversity
  • information literacy
  • general growth as learners

A secondary purpose was to assemble a group of students whose opinions on UW initiatives or current issues could be polled.

The UW SOUL used a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, including:

  • aggregate review of students' academic records
  • focus groups* on values conducted annually
  • interviews* conducted upon entry and annually after that
  • open-ended e-mail questions*
  • portfolios* collected annually that included authentic work from students' courses and students reflective essays about that work
  • quarterly surveys* about students' courses and learning over time, as well as three diversity surveys* administered in students' first, sixth, and twelfth quarters at the UW

The book, Inside the Undergraduate Experience, the University of Washington's Study of Undergraduate Learning, (Beyer, C.H., Gillmore, G.M., and Fisher, A.T. Anker Publishing, 2007) describes the study's methodology and findings. As Peter Ewell wrote in his Foreword to the book:

The portrait it paints of the current undergraduate is complex andf richly nuanced, avoiding stereotypes and needless theorizing that mask the individual struggle of all students to make sense of what they see, hear, read, and do in college. That they rise to the occasion so often - albeit in distinctively different ways - is both moving and reassuring. These stories vividly recreate the "awe of collegiate learning. They remind us all in the academy of why we do this stuff (p. xi).

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