Biology Discipline Assessment of Student Learning Report


14 May 2003


1. Assessment of the discipline as a whole:


a. Who is the person responsible for program assessment, data gathering and analysis in your discipline?


Peter and Timna Wyckoff collect tracking information from our graduating seniors.  In this survey we collect information on participation in out of class opportunities (e.g. UROP, NCUR, MAP, Minority Mentorship Program, other off-campus experiences), voluntary MCAT/GRE test scores, and their long term plans.  The second part of our survey is an anonymous evaluation of their experience in biology.  These data are tabulated after the student graduates from our program. 


Other program assessment is done in discipline meetings, under the responsibility of the current discipline coordinator.


     b. What are the stated goals of your discipline?


            See our web page:


     c. How do you assess whether your discipline is achieving its goals?


In addition to the above tracking data, several of us are trying new assessment techniques such as pre and post-tests, tracking student performance on specific test questions and/or assignments (e.g. I will be tracking student performance on the comprehensive portion of my final exam).  We have also collected input (in addition to SOT evaluations) from students in our introductory course, Biol. 1101. 


Lastly, we have been paying particular attention to whether students coming into our upper-level classes from our introductory sequence have mastered the skills, particularly writing skills, that we expect from our lower level courses. 


d. Has your discipline modified it's curriculum and/or teaching as a result of your assessment results, and if so, how?


Yes, in 2002 we dramatically modified our design of Biol. 1101, changing it from a 4-credit course to a 3-credit course.  Concomitantly, we reinstated Biological Communications (Biol. 3701), a 1-credit course focusing on scientific writing.  We did this specifically in response to evaluation of the new course and because it was apparent that our students were not getting adequate instruction in scientific writing based on our approach in Biol. 1101.


Another change during the last biennium was to alter major requirements in a manner that results in fewer advanced required credits, replaced by more advanced elective credits.  Both students and faculty had felt that our major had too little flexibility.


2. Assessment of your upper level seminar/capstone project or course:


     a.  What are your goals for this course?


The capstone experience that all biology majors must complete is Senior Seminar (Biol. 3775).  Our primary goal for this experience is that students clearly demonstrate the ability to critically evaluate, synthesize and effectively communicate scientific, particularly biological, information.  Students have flexibility in the topic they elect to present and this experience allows for (and indeed encourages) students to present any original research that they have conducted during their undergraduate careers.  However, any original research must be presented and interpreted in light of the published literature in the field.  In short, we are not looking for them to spew back a bunch of memorized facts, but rather to demonstrate the critical thinking and communication skills that are essential for them to work as scientists. 


     b.  How do you measure whether a student has achieved these goals?


Several biology faculty members, in addition to the supervising faculty, evaluate a student’s seminar.  We have a standard evaluation form that we use to score different aspects of the students seminar.   These are kept from year to year and are potentially available as a source of long-term quantitative data on student performance in the capstone experience.   We do not all share the same expertise in biology, so by considering input from several of us, we feel we get a fairly objective evaluation of the quality of the seminar.


Additionally, the faculty discuss the status of senior seminar on an annual basis.  We identify areas in which we feel students are meeting our expectations and also areas in which we feel need improvement.   We try to implement strategies to improve instruction and student preparation for this requirement.  


     c.  As a discipline, are you satisfied with your assessment of this course? 


We are satisfied that our capstone experience is being assessed adequately.  It receives a great deal of our attention and concern.  While we are always striving to improve student performance in this course, we are satisfied that we are keeping very close tabs on how it is going and that we respond quickly to any concerns that we identify.