Student Assessed Integrated Learning: SAILing to a
Holistic Design of Holistic Engineering Education
Cigdem P. Talgar, Laura A. Wankel, Jennifer
Lehmann, Mary English, Kaleena Seeley, Jillian
Scheer, Brooke Hoger, Kimberly Irmiter, Susan A.
Yevgeniya V. Zastavker
F. W. Olin College of Engineering
Abstract—This Work-in-Progress paper presents a framework
for students’ holistic learning, growth, and development recently
created at and for Northeastern University. The Student
Assessed Integrated Learning (SAIL) initiative was introduced
for the first time to 179 first-year students who had not
designated their major prior to entering the University. Our
preliminary data indicate that most students felt the SAIL
framework informed how they viewed their past experiences and
helped them to shape their academic, personal, and/or
professional goals. Further data collection and analyses to
investigate the SAIL framework’s effectiveness in helping
students articulate and shape holistic learning is ongoing.
Keywords—holistic education, reflection, first-year students,
self-regulation, self-directed learning
For more than three decades, leading engineering educators
and engineering education scholars have been calling for a shift
in the engineering education landscape, away from technical
rationality that values linear technical disciplinary knowledge,
detachment from an object of study, rigor, and objectivity,
toward an educational paradigm supporting students’ holistic
development [1-8]. However, the definition of “holistic” within
constructs of “holistic education,” “holistic teaching and
learning,” “holistic curriculum,” “holistic assessment,”
“holistic thinking,” and “holistic mindset” has been vague in
terms of its theorization (e.g., nature of learning vs. learning
strategies vs. learning process, etc.) and operationalization. For
example, when describing their model of holistic learning,
Vanasupa et al., (2009) focus on the nature of learning and
propose a design of students’ experiences that includes
development along cognitive and psychomotor as well as
social and affective domains within a single course or activity
. Bernold et al., (2000) describe holistic teaching as a set of
pedagogical interventions that leverage learning strategies
(e.g., Kolb’s 1984 model ) and psychological
temperaments . Others use the term synonymously with
“inter-” or “trans-disciplinary,” where disciplines may be
purely technical or a combination of both technical and non-
technical courses (e.g., [12-16]). Recent literature on holistic
engineering education has also seen an emergence of calls for
inclusion of empathy and care [7,8,17,18] into engineering
curricula “as a teachable skill, practice orientation, and a way
of being” as well as a way of “enable[ing] students and
engineering practitioners to more holistically and thoughtfully
engage with the complex, socio-technical challenges that
characterize the current age” .
To our knowledge, however, there is little engineering
education literature formulating “holistic” as both student
development across cognitive and non-cognitive domains and,
importantly, across all students’ college experiences, i.e.,
formal and informal, curricular and extra- as well as co-
curricular, etc. (a notable exception is the work of Wilson et
al., (2014) on the link between co-curricular activities and
academic engagement in engineering education ). Yet,
education literature beyond the engineering landscape has long
recognized that learning occurs well beyond formal educational
experiences [20-27]. Among others, co- and extra-curricular
activities such as athletics, participation in support and
retention programs, research, study abroad, service-learning,
clubs, internships, and learning communities contribute to a
range of potential outcomes, including increased satisfaction
, greater academic success , improved persistence,
retention and graduation rates , higher levels of academic
conscientiousness , improved critical thinking skills ,
and promotion of academic and social interactions .
In this Work-in-Progress paper, we discuss Student
Assessed Integrated Learning (SAIL), a new framework for
students’ holistic learning, growth, and development recently
created at Northeastern University. We also present results of a
pilot study investigating the effectiveness of an early
implementation of this framework intervention.
II. STUDENT ASSESSED INTEGRATED LEARNING FRAMEWORK
A. Context: Northeastern University
With its mission of educating students for a life of
fulfillment and accomplishment as well as creating and
translating knowledge to meet global and societal needs,
Northeastern University strives to offer students “a
transformative experience, grounded in experiential education
that ignites their passion for learning” . As suggested by
this language, at the core of Northeastern’s academic life lies
experiential learning, which the University defines as the
integration of study with professional work, research, and
global service. These authentic learning opportunities allow
students to gain applied experience, fine-tune their learning
path, better understand their classroom learning, and develop
critical life-long learning skills that go beyond the formal
classroom environments . Rooted in a 100-year history, a
primary example of experiential learning at the University is its
co-op program, comprised of more than 3,000 global
employers located on all 7 continents (133 countries). In the
2015-2016 academic year alone, 11,002 Northeastern
undergraduates engaged in a co-op experience, many for the
second or third time [32,33]. In that same year, more than
4,000 students completed close to 222,000 hours of community
service through 80+ international and domestic service-
learning partnerships, 900 presented their research results at
Northeastern’s annual Research, Innovation and Scholarship
Expo, and 47% of graduating students took part in one or more
global experiences [33,34]. Back in the classroom, and in a
spirit of experiential learning, students continue integrating
theory and practice through questioning, inquiring, and
challenging their own learning and understanding as well as
those of others in their learning environments .
Building on this history and context, Northeastern is now
working to further enhance learning by explicitly integrating
all experiences - formal and informal, classroom and
experiential environments - into a coherent learning experience
through SAIL initiative.
B. Student Assessed Integrated Learing (SAIL) Initiative
The Student Assessed Integrated Learning (SAIL) initiative
is designed to expand experiential opportunities at
Northeastern University by leveraging “the full resources of
[its] educational ecosystem, adopting an inclusive view of the
co-curriculum (e.g., clubs, organizations, service, co-op,
athletics, student employment, leadership programs, etc.).” The
goal of this initiative is to “create pathways toward
competency development that are engaging, intentional,
empowering, and transformative for students” . Driven by
the idea that learning happens everywhere, SAIL is designed to
provide a mechanism for learning that is personalized,
intentional, and explicit “in every interaction and in every
environment” . Furthermore, SAIL allows for all
Northeastern stakeholders, students, staff, faculty, and
alumni(ae), to come together in a process of co-creating
learning experiences, with students at the center of and driving
their own learning processes. Utilizing the entirety of the
Northeastern network of learning opportunities, including
people, programs, curricular and co-curricular opportunities,
facilities, etc., students are empowered to direct their learning,
growth, and development. By creating a scaffolding for
students to engage in learning cognitively, affectively, and
socially, and by engaging the entirety of students’ selves in the
learning processes, SAIL promotes the development of self-
regulated learners intrinsically motivated in their learning .
As summarized by Ambrose et al., (2017), the goal of
SAIL is that of “advanc[ing] the personalized and
differentiated model of [the University’s] experiential, global
education through a common framework, language, and set of
tools that allow students to map every experience, in and out of
the classroom, to a set of competencies and skills.” The
University expects that “this approach will create deeper
learning, and will provide students with the skills necessary to
clearly articulate and integrate their learning, creating a career
C. SAIL Framework
Fig. 1. The SAIL framework is represented by five overlapping dimensions
of learning, growth, and development: 1) INTELLECTUAL AGILITY:
Learners develop the ability to use knowledge, behaviors, skills, and
experiences flexibly in new and unique situations to innovatively
contribute to their field; 2) GLOBAL MINDSET: Learners develop
knowledge, skills, and behaviors to live, work and communicate with
people whose backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives are different
from their own as well as to consider the global impact of their
decisions; 3) SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS & COMMITMENT: Learners
develop the confidence, skills, and values to effectively recognize the
needs of individuals, communities, and societies as well as make a
commitment to constructively engage in social action; 4) PROFESSIONAL
& PERSONAL EFFECTIVENESS: Learners develop the confidence, skills,
behaviors, and values to effectively discern life goals, form
relationships, and shape their personal and professional identities to
achieve fulfillment; and, 5) WELL-BEING: Learners develop knowledge,
skills, and behaviors necessary to live balanced and fulfilling lives. A set
of core cognitive processes as well asfoundational skills and attributes
underlie students’ development in each dimension .
The SAIL framework represents a synthesis of learning
science and student development theory. Similarly to Vanasupa
et al., (2009) , this framework makes explicit multiple
factors that act contemporaneously with and on each other to
affect students’ development, learning, and growth, and
acknowledges learners’ holistic development without artificial
boundaries created in traditional learning environments. The
SAIL framework, however, is designed as a tool for both
educators and learners to integrate the entirety of students’
college experience into a holistic journey for the purposes of
(1) more effectively designing, curating, and supporting
students’ development and evolution; and, (2) providing
students an opportunity to iteratively and reflectively
understand their past learning journeys to better position
themselves and to be more intentional about their future
personal and professional development. The SAIL framework,
as it stands today, is a result of a co-design process among all
University constituencies and is continually evolving to reflect
and “facilitate innovation, relevance, and breadth of thinking”
The framework delineates five dimensions of student
development: 1) INTELLECTUAL AGILITY; 2) GLOBAL MINDSET;
3) SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS & COMMITMENT; 4) PROFESSIONAL
& PERSONAL EFFECTIVENESS; and, 5) WELL-BEING (see Figure
1). These overlapping dimensions share a set of core cognitive
processes as well as foundational skills, attributes, and abilities
that are identified in the literature as critical to students’ future
success (e.g., ).
To operationalize student learning, growth, and
development along each dimension, the framework offers a set
of associated skills, attributes, and characteristics. For instance,
learners’ development along the Global Mindset dimension
calls for students to:
• engage and build relationships with people from
different cultures and contexts;
• create inclusive environments;
• calibrate one’s behavior and communication to exhibit
cultural sensitivity in professional and social settings;
• make decisions and personal choices that reflect an
understanding of global repercussions, including
environmental, societal, cultural, political, and
• articulate how exposure to multiple worldviews has
impacted one’s own perspectives and ways of being.
Over the course of their learning journey, students engage
in a variety of learning opportunities that advance their
knowledge and skills, as well as develop new mindsets and
behaviors simultaneously along and across each SAIL
dimension. A student’s learning journey at the University,
therefore, may be mapped across five dimensions and can be
visualized as a function of time, as shown in Figure 2(a).
Students’ learning journey can also be visualized at each
discrete moment in time in terms of experience with each of
the five dimensions as shown in Figure 2(b). As students
continue on their journey through the University, their
visualization may change, reflecting the multiple learning
opportunities they engage in and the associated knowledge,
skills, and mindsets they have had the opportunity to practice.
Armed with these tools, students are not only in a better
position to understand their learning journeys to date; they can
also step beyond their comfort zone and create new as well as
leverage existing learning opportunities throughout their
academic experience at the University, maximizing their
development within and across each dimension. The SAIL
platform (web and mobile) further facilitates the identification
of desired learning opportunities and pathways for growth and
development that is individualized for each learner. In this
way, SAIL also provides prompts and tools that encourage
students to reflect on and record an activity’s meaning and
impact, thereby supporting their ability to recognize and
articulate their learning.
III. SAIL PILOT STUDY
A. Study Site
The SAIL framework was piloted for the first time during
Fall 2016 to students in Northeastern’s Explore Program. The
Program is designed for students entering the University with
an explicit goal of exploring their interests and passions prior
to choosing a major. The Program introduces students to a
broad range of learning opportunities within Northeastern and
engages them in deep personal discovery through close work
with their peers, faculty, advisors, and undergraduate peer
mentors. A seminar course and other activities aim to engage
students in thoughtful and intentional conversations about their
interests and motivations to help them shape their future.
Although students may select their major at any time during
their first two years, most do so by the end of their first year.
The SAIL framework was presented to 179 first-year first-
semester Explore Program students within the context of their
Connections & Decisions seminar course. The students
mapped their learning opportunities on a timeline (see Figure
2(b)), and created a graph of their self-assessed cumulative
dimensional growth (see  for examples of students’ growth
through their interactions with various learning opportunities.)
Through a set of classroom discussions and activities, the
Fig. 2. (a) A sample representation of a student’s learning journey through a set of learning opportunities mapped onto a timeline. Vertical axis represents a
student’s cumulative relative self-assessed growth in each dimension. (b) A sample visualization of a student’s engagement in all five dimensions as depicted
on the SAIL app.
students then specifically focused on the PERSONAL &
PROFESSIONAL EFFECTIVENESS and WELL-BEING dimensions.
B. Data Sources and Methods
Data sources included students’ responses to mid-semester
and end-of-semester open-ended questionnaires about (1) the
ways in which the SAIL dimensions informed how they view
their past learning experiences; and, (2) how the SAIL
framework may have shaped students’ academic, personal, and
professional goals. For the end-of-semester questionnaire, we
received 81 unique responses to the first question and 75
unique responses to the second. The response rate for the mid-
semester questionnaire was smaller and students’ comments
were used to inform our analysis of the end-of-semester data,
but did not serve as an analytical focus.
As this work is emergent, we have only begun the initial
stages of analysis using a ground theory approach [38,39].
Preliminary analysis of data consisted of open-coding to
capture major themes in students’ responses and to identify
emergent constructs, which were then further analyzed for
emergence of new themes and theoretical constructs.
C. Preliminary Findings
Approximately two thirds of all respondents commented
that SAIL informed their view of their past experiences. Of
these responses, two emergent constructs were identified: (i)
“SAIL as a reflective tool” to understand past learning
experiences; and, (ii) “SAIL’s value/use” in students’ ability to
make more informed choices in the future.
As a reflective tool, SAIL seems to have given students an
opportunity to stop and think about their past learning journeys
(e.g., “It was good to reflect back on past experience…”), some
specified that it was a new way of performing reflection (e.g.,
“[It] has allowed me to reflect on my past experiences without
too much bias, to take the lessons learn[ed]”), and yet others
shared that SAIL allowed them to better connect with who they
are or even define their new identity (e.g., “[SAIL] let me
reflect in terms of my personal growth and how my past shaped
me to who I am today”).
Most students identified SAIL’s utility in helping them to
articulate their past experiences and define their future. In fact,
20% of all students (65% of all respondents) who found that
SAIL informed how they viewed their past experience
identified, without further prompting, a specific dimension(s)
that they wanted to further develop (e.g., “It showed me that I
have a high global mindset, but I should focus on intellectual
agility in the future.”) Interestingly, none of the students who
responded in this way described how they may want to do so.
About half of all respondents stated that SAIL helped them
to shape their academic, personal, and/or professional goals in
some way. Two major emergent constructs in students’
responses to this question were identical to the ones above,
with the second one being more prominent. Responding to this
question, however, allowed for further clarification of the
emergent constructs, as students seemed to be more willing to
describe in greater detail either the outcomes of their reflection
(e.g., “I saw I needed more global mindset so I applied for a
Dialogue [of Civilizations course]”) or value of SAIL in
understanding their future (e.g., “SAIL helped me to identify
the types of characteristics I want to develop academically,
personally, and professionally. For example, I discovered that I
wanted to become more of a leader”). This question also
allowed for a more nuanced appreciation of students’
understanding of who they are today, what their value system
may be, what they are impassioned about, and how this affects
their future decisions and choices (e.g., “I need to work more
on getting a liberal arts education, I can't just learn about my
specific major... it's great and important to be informed about
the world around you, or else you can really screw up”).
Of the students who responded neutrally or negatively to
either or both open-ended questions (37% of all responses),
about half shared that their exposure to SAIL was too limited
to see any (significant) outcomes (e.g., “I think that I have a
new perspective on wellness, but I don't know how… effective
SAIL has been in altering my view”).
Although at the time of this pilot study, the SAIL
framework and platform were in the process of beta-testing for
further improvement, this effort has already demonstrated its
potential. For example, the framework gives students the
necessary language to describe not only their past experiences
but also the ability to articulate their future goals, interests, and
passions. Students seem to be able to identify their strengths
and the dimensions in which further growth is needed. Of note,
language of weakness is largely absent from students’
responses; rather, the participants are using more agentic
language when discussing their past and, more importantly,
when identifying their future goals.
By far, the spirit of what SAIL may have brought forth for
most students during the Fall 2016 is captured by the following
quote from one of the students in the Spring 2017 iterations of
the Connections & Decisions course, where SAIL was
introduced more intentionally and with supporting
technological infrastructure (i.e., mobile application):
In the past, I would have thought that not knowing was
a bad thing... Northeastern has shown me that it’s ok
not to know what you want to do right now… as long
as you have the commitment and motivation to
research what you really want to do [or] to figure out a
major, [the answer] will come naturally and it will be
one that you wholeheartedly enjoy learning.
As SAIL continues developing and we investigate its
implementation effectiveness, we hope to develop a better
understanding of the ways in which SAIL may help students
shape and articulate their narratives about their learning
journeys, plan their future paths, support development of
intrinsic motivation, and scaffold students’ growth as self-
Y. V. Zastavker thanks Northeastern University for
welcoming her as a Visiting Professor at its Research Institute
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