Data Based Decisions
Assessment Instruments and Methods
Devising assessment strategies for subobjectives with Biology Learning Objective 1 and 3 has been challenging. Recognition of this challenge has spurred the Department Curriculum Reform and Assessment Group to search for appropriate assessment instruments and to initiate discussions among faculty about how these objectives can practically be assessed across the curriculum.
Coverage of Learning Objectives in the Biology Curriculum
The survey of instructor coverage of learning objectives revealed that all learning objective and subobjectives receive significant coverage both on the Logan Campus and at regional campuses. There are, however, some areas that receive lighter coverage, for example, ethics and communication. These areas are targets for increased coverage across the Biology Curriculum.
Learning Objectives 1 & 3
Results obtained using the Timmerman et al. rubric in the fall 2017 offering of Biology 1615 revealed a relative weakness in the ability of Biology 1615 students to write effective discussions of scientific results and to utilize references properly. The following decisions were made in response to this data: 1) Science Writing Center staff were consulted to create a clearer assignment description, 2) More students visited the Science Writing Center for help, 3) For their first lab report, students were provided a lab report framework that allowed them to add text within this organizing scaffold, 4) Students read a scientific article in class before preparing their first lab report, 5) Students completed an online library tutorial regarding finding and reading peer reviewed articles before preparing their initial lab report, and 6) TAs practiced grading an example lab report with the instructor, and continued this practice until matching the instructor’s scoring, before grading any lab reports.
Learning Objective 2
The fall 2018 semester marked the first time the GenBioMAPS instrument was used to assess large portions of Biology majors in introductory (BIOL 1610), mid-curriculum (BIOL 3060) and capstone (BIOL 5250) courses. Participation by Biology majors in these courses was roughly 40% for BIOL 1610 and over 90% in BIOL 3060 and BIOL 5250. The results show strong conceptual understanding by Biology majors at the end of their first semester, and a steady and significant improvement in conceptual understanding as students progress through the Biology curriculum. Reassuringly, this understanding is balanced across the 5 subdisciplines of this Biology content-based objective. Comparisons of the same course, Biology 5250, across two semesters suggest that these levels of achievement are likely to be steady across time.
The data-based decision from these results is that the Biology curriculum provides sufficient opportunities to acquire content knowledge. While improvements are always possible, these positive results in content knowledge, coupled with the weaker performance in some areas of Objectives 1 and 3, inform us that efforts at improving the Biology curriculum may best be focused in areas of the practice of science (Objective 1) and the professional practices of scientists (Objective 3). Efforts in this direction are the task of an active Curriculum Reform Group that has been established within the Biology Department.