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There are three sections to our FAQs: General, Students, and Faculty/Staff.


What is a QEP?

Palo Alto College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Every 10 years, colleges and universities across the nation must undergo reaccreditation; part of that process is the creation of a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), a five-year project to improve the quality of our students’ education. This reaccreditation authorizes the college to continue to award degrees, ensure credits transfer, and grant federal student financial aid.

What is Palo Alto College’s QEP?

Palo Alto College’s focus for the QEP is a type of active learning, and our slogan is Make It RREAL! Relevance + Reflection + Engagement = Active Learning. As the QEP develops, our active learning focus means students will have more opportunities for hands-on activities in the classroom such as group work and discussion.

How was the QEP chosen?

The QEP was chosen based on the results of surveys and focus groups with faculty, students, staff and administrators. These results indicated that students wanted more opportunities to connect coursework to the “real world” and that students learn best by “doing.” The topic was further refined by the QEP Committee who researched active learning best practices and determined that Problem-based Learning (PBL) would be the best focus for our students.

What’s Problem-based Learning (PBL)?

Problem-based learning is an educational strategy that attempts to connect course concepts and content to the real world. PBL traditionally involves a small group of students working together to solve a challenging, multifaceted problem related to a specific discipline. Students work collaboratively to analyze their problem, research their problem, and generate a workable solution.

Where did PBL come from?

Problem-based Learning is a strategy developed in the early 1970s to revitalize medical education by relating classroom theory to actual hands-on practice. Since then, PBL has been successfully used in a variety of disciplines across the curriculum.

Why focus on Problem-based Learning?

Academic literature and research on employers’ needs emphasize the importance of critical thinking, problem-solving, collaborating, and communicating AND that students are graduating and entering the workforce with deficiencies in these areas. PBL addresses all of these skills in an engaging, hands-on way. Additionally, as mentioned above, discussions and surveys of PAC faculty, students, staff and administrators revealed intense interest in fostering tangible connections between course concepts and the “real world.” Finally, focusing on skills like criticalthinking, problem-solving, and communication aligns with PAC’s mission and strategic plan to provide an exemplary education for all of our students.

What are the goals of the QEP?

For the five-year project, the college has targeted “high-risk” courses; these are courses that have a less than 70% success rate. Therefore, one goal of the QEP is to improve the success rates in these courses. Another important goal of the QEP is to increase students’ satisfaction with their learning experience at the college.

What are the Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) of the QEP?

The QEP will focus on four student learning outcomes:

Collaboration: Students will actively engage with each other in accomplishing the group’s common goal. Critical Thinking: Students will investigate, analyze, and synthesize relevant information. Communication: Students will communicate what they learned orally and in writing. Reflection: Students will examine their learning process.

When will this take place?

The QEP is NOT YET in progress; the college has been creating, organizing, and promoting the plan. Once SACS approves our QEP, the program will launch in fall 2012 and build over five years. In 2017, we will submit a progress report on the success of the QEP.

What if I have more questions?

The college will be choosing a QEP Director to guide the project; when that occurs, the Director may be contacted via email. Until that time, please see other links at the QEP website ( for more information.


How will the QEP work in my classes?

Since the QEP’s focus is active learning, as the plan develops, you can expect less lecture and more discussion, group work, and other hands-on activities in your classes, regardless of the course or your major.

How does this benefit me?

Besides creating a stimulating, dynamic, and challenging learning environment, the QEP will help you develop the skills that employers regard as crucial for success: critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.

How will the college know if the QEP is having a positive impact on my education?

The college will be assessing the QEP and its impact constantly during the five-year project. Some of these assessments will take place within your course through projects and assignments; other assessments will involve the entire campus. In addition, students will be asked to provide a variety of feedback about the QEP through surveys, focus groups, and informal writing assignments.What do I need to do?

  • Participate in the QEP activities scheduled for this fall (see the QEP calendar of activities on our website);
  • Review the campus literature about QEP (e.g., What You Need to Know about the QEP, syllabus statements)
  • Be prepared to answer questions the SACS On-site committee may have about the QEP

Faculty and Staff

How will the QEP work?

Beginning in the spring of 2012 and continuing through 2015, faculty in certain high-risk courses will have the opportunity to apply to become a member of a QEP/PBL cohort. Applications will be available online at the QEP website ( The QEP Advisory Committee will review the applications and select participants for the following academic year. Faculty selected will attend workshops and other professional development activities to help them implement Problem- Based Learning in their classrooms. During the semester of implementation, QEP faculty will meet with each other and the QEP Director to discuss any problems or challenges with PBL, and they will help the college determine the effectiveness of the QEP through a variety of assessment measures.


Which classes will be affected by the QEP?

Certain disciplines with high-risk courses have been scheduled to participate in the QEP. The schedule is summarized below:

  • Fall 2012-Summer 2013—Biology, English, Art, Music, CIS, Business
  • Fall 2013-Summer 2014—Chemistry, Physics, Math/Accounting, History, Veterinary Technology
  • Fall 2014-Summer 2015—Geology, Biology, Reading, Speech, Psychology, Horticulture/Aviation/Logistics
  • Fall 2015-Summer 2016—Kinesiology, Education, Government, Economics, Criminal Justice

**Please note: Not ALL courses within these disciplines will participate. The application and selection process above will help determine the classes involved each year.


If I apply, what will be expected of me?

Faculty who are selected to participate in the PBL cohort will be expected to do the following:

  • Attend the Summer PBL Institute.
  • Implement a PBL activity in at least one course during the fall and one course during the spring semester.
  • Participate in monthly teaching circles and other professional development activities during the academic year designed to provide support to PBL instructors.
  • Present their PBL experiences to faculty at one college-wide or one departmental professional development activity.
  • Document their experiences in journal form and be willing to use their journal as the basis for an essay describing their implementation of PBL.
  • Act as PBL ambassadors in their departments to model PBL activities and actively support other members of the department interested in initiating PBL in their classrooms.

What will I get in return?

In return, faculty will receive extensive on-campus professional development and support, PBL resources such as books and articles, and credit for the committee service required of all full-time faculty. In addition, the college will provide registration and travel to each member of the PBL cohort to attend one professional development activity related to problem-based learning. Faculty will select the professional development activity they wish to attend from a menu of three or four options designed by the QEP Director.


How will we assess the SLOs?

Assessment of the QEP will include both direct* and indirect** methods and will occur at both the course and college levels.

*Direct assessment: Measures that show the student’s knowledge, skills, or values at the end of a successful learning experience. **Indirect assessment: Subjective measures of opinions that might be associated with learning, but do not by themselves indicate it. For more information on direct and indirect assessment, please see the link QEP Terms & Definitions.

Direct Assessment:

General Education Assessment. The college’s General Ed Assessment for Critical Thinking, Team Work, and Communication will be used to evaluate assignments in PBL course sections.

Self & Peer Assessment. Locally developed self- and peer-assessment rubrics will evaluate collaboration by identifying individual contributions to the PBL process.

Assessment of PBL Product. Using locally developed rubrics, instructors will assess the culminating oral and written PBL student presentations.

Student Journal. At the conclusion of the PBL experience, all students will write a 350- word journal reflecting on their learning.

The Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CAT). The CAT will be administered annually at the conclusion of the spring semester to students in PBL sections.


Indirect Assessment:

Attitude Survey. At the beginning and end of the semester, students in PBL course sections will take a brief survey to assess their attitudes toward the areas addressed in the QEP student learning outcomes.

Post-PBL Student Focus Groups. At the end of each fall semester, students from selected PBL class sections will be invited to participate in a 1-hour focus group to discuss their reactions to problem-based learning.

Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE). The impact of PBL on high-risk courses college-wide will be assessed at the institutional level through the college’s CCSSE data.

Student Achievement Data. Baseline data on course retention, withdrawal and productive grade rate in all high-risk courses will be collected in 2011-2012 prior to the QEP. As the QEP progresses, we can analyze changes in those variables in PBL sections.


What do I need to know?

  • Read the QEP; it’s available on the web at
  • Be prepared to answer questions the SACS On-site committee may have about the QEP.
  • Participate in the events listed in the QEP Calendar of Activities (at the website above).
  • Review the Active Learning and PBL resources available at the website mentioned above.
  • If you teach in one of the high-risk disciplines scheduled for the QEP, consider applying to be a part of this exciting new initiative to enhance our students’ learning!

Contact Information

Joseph Coppola

Director of Instructional Development 



Alexis Lowe

Chairperson Kinesiology and Health