Departmental Assessment to Examine Student Learning

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Title of Abstract: Departmental Assessment to Examine Student Learning

Name of Author: Loretta Brancaccio-Taras
Author Company or Institution: Kingsborough Community College
Author Title: Professor and Chairperson
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum
Approaches: Assessment
Keywords: assessment, outcomes, General Biology

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Mary T. Ortiz, Kingsborough Community College Kristin Polizzotto, Kingsborough Community College

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The goal of this effort was to develop a standardized departmental assessment plan using a backward design approach in order to determine if students are meeting the stated learning outcomes of our introductory Biology course sequence.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Full-time and part-time faculty were invited to participate in the work of developing and implementing a departmental assessment plan. Course committees, consisting of the instructors teaching a course of multiple sections, conducted the course level assessment work under the leadership of a course coordinator. The first task for these working groups was to write learning outcomes. All course outcomes are presented on the Department’s website ( ). Course committees then developed assessment tools for each learning outcome. In addition, course committee members established an expected passing rate that would deem the learning objective met. Assessment tools for multi-section courses are found on the Department’s website ( At the end of the semester, instructors submit their assessment data to the course coordinator; it is compiled and results are disseminated and discussed by instructors.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Changes in student learning as well as faculty practice are being examined. The data gathered on student learning is being used to alter classes in an attempt to improve student learning. In addition, we are also examining how faculty change their teaching practice and are asking faculty to report on their experiences in changes their classes so they are more in line with the recommendations of Vision and Change.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: For General Biology I and II, the Department of Biological Sciences studied the ability of students to: 1. write a scientific report 2. construct a graph, including a written explanation In General Biology I, data was gathered from eight of ten sections in the spring of 2012. Of the 145 students, 107 (74%) met the established criteria for the scientific report writing. However, 81% of students have met this outcome in the past. The course committee decided to scaffold the lab report, provide students with feedback on their writing and require a submission of a final draft to be graded. In General Biology II, 33 out of 45 students (73%) were able to construct and explain a graph. Our expected achievement level was 85%. Instructors decided to add three more graphing experiences in lab and intentionally review lecture topics to see where graphing experiences can be included during class and for homework

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Our work is in alignment with the recommendation stated in the Vision and Change Report, “View the assessment of course success as similar to scientific research, centered on the students involved, and apply the assessment data to improve and enhance the learning environment.” The largest challenge has been for all instructors to submit their assessment data and their willingness to change their classroom practice. In addition, although many faculty want to incorporate more active learning strategies in their lectures, they are not sure how do this. To address this issue, an Active Learning Group was formed in the Department of Biological Sciences. Led by the Department Chair, 11 interested faculty attended a series of meetings about the pros and cons of active learning, how to develop active learning strategies they could test in their class during the semester, and then report their initial experiences to the group.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Currently, assessment of student learning at the course level is expected for all departments at KCC. Chairpersons submit reports about student learning assessment to The Office of Institutional Research. Our next step at KCC will be to align program level outcomes with course outcomes. Program outcomes have been written and course outcome maps have been generated to show which courses fulfill the various program outcomes. For Fall 2013, the department will decide which program outcome we want to examine. For that semester, all courses will gather data on the program outcome all faculty agree on.

Acknowledgements: A special thanks to Richard Fox, Christian Calienes, and Linda Biancorosso of Kingsborough's Office of Institutional Research for their assistance and support in the development of an assessment plan for the department as well as an integrated assessment plan for the college.