The Role of the Traditional Master’s Thesis in Competency-based Outcome Education

By Robin Ringstad.

Published by The International Journal of Learning in Higher Education

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Competency-based outcome assessment of college and university educational programs is a trend in many fields, particularly in professional programs. Many educational accrediting bodies are requiring competency outcome data as part of accreditation reviews. While there is agreement that competency outcomes are important, work is just beginning on what the competencies should be and how best to facilitate and measure them. Traditional curriculum, teaching methods, and assignments are being revisited in this context of competency-based assessment. A Master’s thesis as a culminating assignment has historically been one of the traditional assignments in graduate education, and a thesis was believed to demonstrate the mastery of disciplinary content, the application of research knowledge and skills, and the contribution to the knowledge base of the discipline. Many professional programs, however, have begun to question the value of a thesis, and to cite the need to focus on practice-related career development and skill building as well as the demands of the marketplace as reasons to phase out this traditional assignment. This study explores the role, value, and relevance of the Master’s thesis within a competency-based education model. Over 1600 attendees at 150 Master of Social Work (MSW) thesis defense presentations provided feedback evaluations of quality, presentation, relevance, and demonstration of learning. Results were used to examine alignment of the thesis with competency-based outcome requirements and to inform decisions about program assessment and program integrity. This article presents the results of the study, and asserts that competency demonstration may be a critical, yet insufficient, perspective from which to assess educational programs.

Keywords: Outcome Assessment, Competency-based Assessment, Master’s Thesis, Graduate Education

The International Journal of Learning in Higher Education, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp.71-82. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 293.174KB).

Dr. Robin Ringstad

Program Director, Master of Social Work Program, California State University, Turlock, USA

Robin Ringstad is an associate professor and the Master of Social Work Program Director at CSU, Stanislaus. She has 15 years of teaching experience in graduate social work education, mainly in the areas of social work practice and research. Her practice expertise is in the areas of mental health and public child welfare, and her research focus is primarily around examination and assessment of social work practice, practitioners, and the profession. She has a particular interest in ethics and ethical behavior as related to social work practice and education.