Thesis, Portfolio, or Professional Project?

The idea of a comprehensive assessment project is to provide what people in program assessment call a “capstone” experience, a chance to bring together the skills students have developed and the knowledge they have acquired in some kind of culminating synthesis that they can share with others and that demonstrates a degree of research skill and professional expertise in the area.  MTL offers three options to fulfill the requirement, and I want to give my opinion about the suitability of each option, given students’ different aims and life circumstances.

We’ve found the professional project to be a great choice for teachers.  The result, often, is a pedagogical unit useful not only for bringing together material studied throughout the program and critically examining and arranging it, but also for providing new curricular options for school districts, community colleges, and so on.

The portfolio is fine for those students who would prefer not to write a thesis and who would like to benefit from a careful critical review of the research and learning process in which they’ve engaged throughout the program. The disadvantage of this option, as with the professional project, is the fact that you have to select two additional courses to complete the degree.

The thesis is a great research and writing challenge.  For those of you with an intense interest in one aspect of your studies, and who love the challenge of producing a long (60 plus pages or so?), multi-chapter study of a topic within the discipline, this is the option.  Traditionally, it’s served as a kind of gateway task for doctoral study.  The disadvantage of this option is that, in the event you decide to abandon a thesis project you’re working on, you might find yourself needing two additional courses to graduate.  If this option appeals to you, take advantage of every course you take in terms of imagining possible thesis topics that could emerge from the material you are studying.  In your 7005 class, you will do a “mock thesis prospectus” which will give you an idea of the strategic thought processes involved in planning a thesis.

I hope this is helpful in getting you thinking about the different options and which might be best for you.


  • Thanks, your comment was very helpful to me since I am also a community college instructor and considering the project, as opposed to doing a thesis. I have so many courses I am interested in also that I don’t think the additional courses would be a problem. So at the moment, I am leaning towards doing a project, but I would like to read posts from other students who did, or are doing, a thesis to see what they have to say too before I make a final decision.

  • I wanted to comment on this posting. I am a teacher in the community college system, and after debating thesis or project for a while, I finally decided to do a professional project. I developed a multicultural curriculum that could be taught at this level. I have had a wonderful experience with my project; not to mention, it is practical. I hope to actually get to teach this class one day. The requirement of having to take two extra classes was not overbearing either. I was thrilled to pick two more areas to learn about. As you can tell, I am a huge advocate for the professional project option.

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