Biology Discipline Assessment 2006-2007


Scope of assessment activities

         ___√__Course-embedded assessment

                     ___√___ Pre- and post-testing

         ______ Outside the classroom

         ______ Across the discipline

Direct measures of student learning

         ___√__ Capstone experience

         ______ Portfolio assessment

         ______ Standardized tests

         ______ Performance on national licensure, certification or

                     preprofessional exams

         ______ Qualitative internal and external juried review of

                     of comprehensive senior projects

         ______ Externally reviewed exhibitions and performances in

                     the arts

         ______ External evaluation of performance during internships


Discussion and Description

Discipline goals, direct measures, and improved student learning


         1. The biology curriculum is designed to provide students with

á      biological knowledge

á      scientific skills as part of their general education

á      the skills to conduct and interpret scientific research

á      the ability to communicate scientific information both verbally and in writing.


         2. The Capstone Course: Senior Seminar.

         Senior seminar is the majorŐs capstone course, in which students present an hour-long seminar on a biological topic, thereby demonstrating their ability to communicate scientific information verbally. The course is intimately related to the acquisition of writing skills, since it is often the case that the topic written about in Biological Communications is the subject of the talk in Senior Seminar.

         A number of changes based on assessment have been made over the years to improve student learning. The change in grading from S/N to A/F has both improved student effort and provided students better feedback on their efforts. The interaction of student and faculty advisor in the run-up to the seminar has been greatly intensified, that is to say, there is a much more hands-on approach by the faculty. A schedule has been instituted in which students must meet a series of benchmarks before the seminar. Qualitatively, the faculty has seen great improvement in the seminars.


         3. Assessment-based curricular changes to improve student learning.

         3.1. Fundamentals of Genetics, Evolution, and Development.

         This, the new gateway to the major, is designed to give students a firm evolutionary framework for subsequent course-work. It replaces the previous gateway course, Principles of Biology, which was taught at a less introductory level, producing students with uneven levels of knowledge and skills.

         3.2. Biological Communications II.

         The new Fundamentals course is less writing-intensive than the Principles course it replaced. The addition of this course to the already existing Biological Communications I compensates for this change.

         3.3. Molecular Biology.

         This course has been required for the major for a long time, but has been aimed at juniors, and was often not taken until the senior year. However, it became apparent that knowledge of molecular biology was often needed by students in Biological Communications and in preparing for Senior Seminar, and that too many students struggled because they hadnŐt yet taken the course. Hence, the course is being reconfigured to make it appropriate for sophomores, and will be taken in the spring semester of the sophomore year.

         3.4. Breadth and width.

         The Biology faculty judged that the balance between breadth and depth was skewed away from the former. To correct this imbalance, the major now consists of five core courses and four electives instead of the previous six and three. Genetics was dropped as a core course, but the topic became part of the new Fundamentals course to guarantee that majors have knowledge of the field.


         4. Course-embedded assessment: pre- and post-testing.

         Pre- and post-testing has been used in two of the majorŐs core courses, Evolution of Biodiversity and Ecology, both taught by the same instructor. He has used two different multiple-choice exams as the assessment tool. The first exam used in Ecology was based on questions appearing in the Graduate Record Exam. However, some of the questions were so easy that high scores on the pre-test resulted, leaving little room for measuring improvement. Other questions were esoteric, which made it Ňhard to map the results to particular units of my class.Ó[1] For both courses, the instructor now uses questions drawn from the test bank that accompanies textbooks. In all five instances where the pre-test/post-test format was used, the class showed improvements in student learning.[2]


         4. Course evaluation by students

         Instructors often use end-of-course questionnaires for student feedback and evaluation of their courses. These are useful for improving courses. An example for Biol 3121, Molecular Biology, is included in the discipline summary.


General education categories spanned by the discipline


            Biology courses bear one of two general education designators: Sci or Sci-L, physical and biological sciences without and with lab, respectively. Exceptions are directed study, human anatomy, biological communication I & II, practicum in biology, biochemistry lab, and senior seminar, none of which carry a general education designator.



[1] Quoted from the Biology discipline report, which is in the appendices.

[2] Numerical results along with some brief instructor comments are in the discipline report.