We have framed the educational goals for our majors as six skills-based learning outcomes. The curricular content expected of our majors is encompassed in the requirements of the major, with essential content covered in the introductory sequence and students having the option to pursue more specialized goals through the upper-level curriculum.
- Students will learn how to develop well-reasoned experimental hypotheses and design experiments and define experimental predictions by which to test them
- Students will understand the importance of a statistical sample, the meaning of statistical significance, and how to apply appropriate statistical treatments to different data sets
- Students will be able to communicate clearly and explicitly, both orally and in writing, following conventional scientific formats.
- Students will show proficiency in reading, understanding and critically evaluating scientific literature across major areas of the curriculum
- Students will demonstrate an ability to collaborate effectively in cooperative laboratory and field-based experimental projects
- Students will demonstrate proficiency in independent research, understanding a research topic and the associated methods to a level that allows them to problem-solve and take ownership of a project
To assess student performance in meeting these learning outcomes, we have planned to develop 1-2 specific graded assignments that incorporate one or more of the outcomes in each of our three introductory courses. Because the introductory courses emphasize the teaching of skills as well as content, this approach will ensure that each of the skills-based outcomes can be evaluated, and in multiple curricular areas. These assignments may comprise specific exam questions, or laboratory activities and will be an integral part of the graded course material. In grading these assignments, faculty will score each student's performance in the relevant learning outcomes, and maintain these in a database. At the end of each semester, these scores will be sent to the department chair who will maintain the compiled data in a spreadsheet.
To provide a comparative basis to assess student learning, individual student performances from these introductory sequence assignments will be compared with corresponding ratings of the learning outcomes in the senior thesis. Because both the grant proposal and experimental theses require students to research a project, develop one or more testable hypotheses, and develop the experimental plan to execute and analyze the project, most of the learning outcomes are integrated into both senior thesis courses (Biol. 191 and 194). Experimental theses will provide us with additional information in oral communication and experimental research.
The rationale for making the introductory sequence and senior theses the basis for our assessment is that these courses are taken by all students. Other upper-level courses could be assessed in the same way, but are less useful as a benchmark for assessment; only a fraction of majors take any given upper-level course, and may do so as sophomores, juniors or seniors. The benefit of our proposed model is that most students complete the introductory courses in their first two years, and the thesis is always taken in the senior year.