Assessing Science

Assessing student learning

As part of the science division’s focus on assessing student learning, faculty are interested in assessing a student’s incoming skills and then looking at how far students have progressed in the course of a semester.

Lynne Beatty, professor, science, was interested in the specified outcomes of processing numeric, symbolic and graphic information and selecting and applying appropriate problem-solving techniques. In fall 2009, Beatty developed for her physical geography lab an assessment tool centered on these outcomes using pre- and post-testing. The assessment tool focused on general problem-solving techniques using conversion factors, interpretation of graphs, reading maps and studying rates of change of natural processes on Earth.

After analyzing the data, Beatty felt it helped spotlight certain issues with which students were struggling, especially in the area of scale conversions. By addressing and focusing on key issues related to problem solving, she saw an improvement in the overall average upon post-testing.  She plans to add to her assessment tool by implementing an exercise that involves 3-D glasses to address spatial visualization. Michelle Clark, associate professor, sciences, used the same type of assessment tool of pre- and post-testing in chemistry lab sections in spring 2010.  Students were assessed the first day of classes and again at the end of the semester. According to Melanie Harvey, assistant professor, science, it’s important to develop an assessment that is painless and sustainable.

Faculty who teach cell and molecular biology are using course-embedded assessment techniques combined with post-testing. Ellyn Mulcahy, associate professor, science, explained that faculty chose to focus to the assessment on the traditionally difficult topic of DNA replication, transcription and translation. Students often struggle with their problem-solving skills concerning these topics. Common questions focused on problem-solving have been selected and embedded in quizzes, exams and assignments for all sections, and data will be collected on how students perform on these particular questions. Faculty will address areas where students struggle and give additional focus to the problem areas. Students will then be tested before the end of the semester.