Submitted Fall, 2006
CURRICULAR ISSUES FROM 2005 ASSESSMENT:
The Biology Department is continually evaluating the composition and structure of the Biology Major’s curriculum. Among the review issues since the 2004 Assessment Report, and carried into the 2005 report there are two that directly affected our majors. These two issues resulted from changes to both our freshman introductory Biology (BIOL I and BIOL II) and a course formerly considered as a capstone course Evolution (BIOL 490). A third issue was addressed for 2006, the review of our Senior research project, BIOL 420.
FIRST ISSUE (INTRODUCTORY COURSE - BIOL I AND BIOL II)
(BACKGROUND) Over the past five years, the Biology Department watched a developing trend in Biology Education. After a year of consideration, we concluded the trend made sense and in 2004, we prepared to make changes in our own curriculum.
Traditionally, Biology Majors would take a first year/one semester Botany course (UNK BIOL104) and a first year/one semester Zoology course (UNK BIOL107). There are problems of course organization that results from this approach. Among them are: (1) there is considerable overlap of subject matter common to both Botany and Zoology. Even though there is an obvious distinction between plants and animals, each course covered many of the same topics as part of the introductory material (e.g., microscope use, lab safety, basic cell structure, basic cell physiology, etc.) In effect: there is considerable duplication in course material. (2) It is commonly assumed the major obvious realms of biology are: Botany (UNK BIOL 104 and Zoology (BIOL 107). Contemporary Biologists can make an argument for other classification schemes. In light of these two considerations, the Department restructured the year long first course sequence into two new classes. In effect, it is more efficient to cover the basics of the various taxonomic hierarchies of biology (e.g., Protoctista, Plantia, Animalia) together along with introductory specifics of each in the one class BIOL I (now UNK 105) and the principal unifying themes of biology (e.g., genetics, ecology, evolution, etc.) in a second class, BIOL II (now UNK 106). Each class is designed to be self-contained. Thus it is not necessary to complete BIOL I prior to taking BIOL II. This provision will allow students to enter the sequence at any point. Both courses are required for many of the subsequent courses in the major.
(IMPLEMENTATION) In the 2003-04 academic year, a preliminary adjustment was made and new direction taken. In the 2004-05 academic year, major adjustments were made and courses renumbered. The course direction was guided under the supervision of two UNK Biology Department Faculty members ( a Professor and an Assistant Professor). The laboratory organization was under the supervision and coordination of an experienced Lecturer. The laboratory sections were taught by both lecturers and Professorial Faculty. During the course of the year, it became apparent that additional restructuring of both delivery and content was needed. The student reviews of the course while not bad, were not encouraging. Most categories of quantified evaluation were ranked by students from 3.5 to 4 in the 0 to 5 range. Student comments reflected frustration over several central issues.
Lecture: inconsistency of testing format and style, inconsistency of delivery style.
(It should be noted that the lectures were split between the two primary faculty
whose expertise reflected both botanical and zoological interests.
Laboratory: appropriateness of laboratory material, uneven expectations between
Laboratory sections, insufficient activity based learning,
(ADJUSTMENT) By mid spring semester 2006 it was apparent that changes needed to be made. The Department Chairman and the Professorial faculty made a commitment to upgrade content and delivery. A Department BIOL I – BIOL II Curriculum Committee formed. They worked through the spring 2006 and summer 2006 to develop a new delivery and testing schedule. During the spring semester 2006, the Department Chairman made several decisions directly affecting staffing and those changes initiated. These changes were implemented to affect the fall semester, 2006.
Lecture: Lectures to be potentially split among all UNK Biology Faculty with the
assignments based on: expertise in subdiscipline and lecture skills. Work load
computation is difficult but the faculty accepted the inequities to bring about needed
improvement. Exam preparation and writing is the responsibility of one faculty
member. Potential exam questions are submitted for rewrite – to maintain writing style
consistency. Thus, lecture exams were to no longer be constructed as a composite of
questions provided by lecturers from each section. The issues of different lecture
styles was considered a part of the education of a student capable of adapting.
Laboratory: The Biology Department faculty made a commitment to staff ALL
introductory laboratories with professorial faculty. The advantages go beyond
competency. The courses represent our commitment to our majors and using ranked
faculty offers an opportunity for students to begin to find a comfortable student-
mentor fit. This will be especially helpful as they plan for the independent research
project. The laboratory exercises incorporated in the 2005-06 year were critically
evaluated for levels of “hands-on” participation as well as appropriateness to the
subject matter. Significant changes to the scheduling were implemented. Standardized
levels of performance were planned and are being implemented.
(ASSESSMENT) Both BIOL I and BIOL II will be evaluated during the 2006-07 academic year for student performance and format acceptance. The results will be discussed by the entire Department faculty.
SECOND ISSUE: (Repositioning the course Evolution BIOL 490).
The course was originally intended as a “capstone” course. Evolution serves as the unifying theme in modern biological studies. The original senior level required course was designed to draw all of the experiences of the biology major into one “summary” course. During the course of the first few years of offering however, the department faculty was disappointed in the lack of unifying vision demonstrated by so many students. Too often, students view their undergraduate courses as covering seemingly unrelated content.
Discussions within the department were held and the strategy was developed to offer Evolution earlier in a student’s experience. The course was reassigned to a lower division status and is now offered as BIOL 290. Student reviews of the course are favorable and faculty are anecdotally reporting that students are now seemingly applying evolutionary principles to other classes.
THIRD ISSUE: (INDEPENDENT RESEARCH PROJECT):
(BACKGROUND) All majors complete an extended independent research project (Biology 420) that culminates in: (1) submission of a scientific research report in the conventional format: Introduction, Purpose, Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion and Conclusions. (2) An oral presentation in the format of a scientific meeting. (3) A poster prepared using a professional grade plotter.
(ASSESSMENT): Each semester, every student’s research paper, oral presentation, poster are assessed. The student’s is assessed in the areas of: Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, Overall. These categories reflect competency in overall understanding of: research protocol, appropriate procedure and methods, interpretation of results (statistics), writing skills, speaking skills, etc. All three facets of the projects are subject to evaluation by numerous faculty: The paper is evaluated by a minimum of 2 faculty. The poster and presentation are evaluated by a minimum of 6 Professorial ranked faculty from the Biology Department. Thirteen (13) students successfully completed these activities related to the Biology 420 project in the fall semester 2004. Twenty-one (21) completed their project in the spring semester, 2005. Ten (10) students completed the project in the fall semester 2005 and twenty (20) completed the project in the spring semester 2006. The assessment offers both direct and indirect insights into the student’s success at achieving many of the goals associated with the education of a Biologist including but not limited to: identification of a specific problem, search and assessment of appropriate literature, development of an appropriate research scheme applicable to addressing the problem, development of an appropriate research protocol, collection of data, analysis of data, reaching reasonable conclusions consistent with the observations and data, presentation of findings and being able to defend the conclusions reached in the study. The Department has incorporated a survey of the the BIOL 420 as part of the student evaluation document. The survey appears in the BIOL420 document as:
SECTION “C” (Additional Questions) Evaluating the BIOL 420 experience
The Department reviews these results along with student anecdotal comments
The assessment of the BIOL 420s allows the Department faculty to address issues of the curricular structure and the success in helping students achieve the goals related to fundamental knowledge, critical thinking and presentation.
(ADJUSTMENT): Through the 2004-05 and certainly between 2005-06, it became evident that additional opportunity to develop competencies in Research Protocol were needed by our students. A new course BIOL 210 (Fundamental Tools for Biological Sciences) was developed and implemented. The course is now required of the major, In precedes the BIOL375 (Scientific Communication) in the sequence of courses leading to the senior project. The course offers an introduction to: experimental design, statistics, computer program selection, research proposals, etc. The follow-up course in Scientific Communication (aka SciCom), provides instruction and skill development in literature searching, citation, presentation, etc.
NEW ASSESSMENT PROJECT – WRITING:
The Biology Department has been in the forefront in offering Writing Intensive designated courses. As part of the current campus wide Writing Assessment project, the department reviewed all Departmental courses in the current catalog. Our intention was to determine the degree to which writing issues are addressed in our offerings. Accompanying this report is a copy of our assessment document and our findings. It is evident that the Department has a commitment to the expectation of graduating majors who are capable of written communication.
BIOLOGY GRADUATING SENIOR SURVEY: The Department has incorporated an “exit” survey of seniors into the BIOL 420 student evaluation document. The questions address several areas of interest. The questions appear in the BIOL420 document as:
SECTION “D” (Additional Questions) Evaluating the Biology Major
The Department reviews these results along with student anecdotal comments
BIOLOGY GRADUATE SURVEY: The Department is planning to continue our survey of recent graduates. The first survey was sent out in 2003. The results were included in the 2004 Assessment Report. Since the 2003 survey was completed, the department has been discussing the information collected. As result of these discussions, it is expected that a survey in some form will be conducted. Two different formats are being considered: A written survey of all recent grads and/or an exit interview of students newly completing their programs.
PRE AND POST TESTING: The Department has given consideration to pre and post testing. Nationally normed exams in the discipline are problematic for us. Biology is a broad and diverse discipline and the majority of nationally normed exams are specialty exams. These may not be applicable to all UNK Biology Majors. The applicability of the GRE Biology Areas exam is still being considered. There are considerable cost/exam issues attached to this protocol.
CRITICAL THINKING ASSESSMENT: The Department is initiating a mechanism for assessment of critical thinking skills. Accompanying this report is the proposed rubric. Development of a useful assessment tool will be undertaken through the ensuing year.