Acknowledgement: Dr. Ted Georgian (Biology) prepared an extensive assessment report at the end of the first year of the course (spring 2000). His report appears below with his permission.
A common set of pre- and post-course questions continue to be asked, as well as collecting student evaluations each semester. The results of these exercises have not changed substantially from those given below.
This report presents an assessment of Clare 102, Inquiry in the Natural
World, Spring 2000. The course is
assessed in terms of the first and third objectives approved by the Faculty
Senate: (1) to introduce the mode
of inquiry of the natural sciences; (2) to enable students to understand and
apply basic investigatory skills in a problem solving context; and (3) to
examine a sample of fundamental discoveries of the natural sciences. Objective 2 is most closely related to the laboratories,
which are not assessed in this report.
Two formal assessment tools are reviewed here:
(1) nearly identical entrance and exams taken by all students in the
first and last weeks of the semester, and (2) a student course evaluation.
While these tools provide objective data on student learning outcomes and
student attitudes, they do not reflect the “feeling” for the course
developed by those who taught it this past year. Instructor experiences represent a rich source of assessment
information that should be tapped by those in charge of the course and of Clare
The entrance/exit tests consisted of 23-25 objective questions covering
fundamental concepts and discoveries of the physical and biological sciences.
Overly specific “factoids” and material particular to Clare 102 were
avoided in favor of ideas that the 102 instructors believe all educated people
should possess. Student performance
on the entry test averaged 35.3%, revealing a very weak grasp of fundamental
scientific principles. The exit test average improved dramatically to 66.6%, nearly
doubling the entrance average but leaving considerable room for improvement.
Virtually all students improved substantially:
94% improved by at least 10% and more than 75% by more than 20%.
Student evaluations were based on a 1-5 scale, with 1 = strong
disagreement with a statement, 3 = neutrality, and 5=strong agreement. Items related to how well students had been introduced to the
mode of inquiry in the natural sciences (course objective 1) received scores in
the low 3’s, indicating moderate agreement.
Students agreed more strongly (3.4) that the course introduced them to
many of the fundamental discoveries of the natural sciences (course objective 3)
and that the topics in the course fit the course description (3.7).
However, students showed less enthusiasm for the course overall,
disagreeing with the statement that they found the material in the course
personally interesting (2.6) and not very inclined to recommend the course to
Students were asked to rank the various pedagogical components of the
course. They consistently ranked
review sessions as the most helpful, followed by class discussions and active
learning exercises. Large lectures, the textbook, and assigned readings were
ranked lower. These findings agree
with one of the design philosophies of the course, that it should emphasize
active learning pedagogies along with more traditional lectures. Student rankings were not, however, confirmed by studies of
which components actually promoted learning, and should not be necessarily be
taken at face value.
In conclusion, this initial assessment shows that the course is meeting two of its objectives. The two assessment tools used are somewhat limited, however, particularly in terms of the first and second objectives. Future assessments should incorporate more questions about the process of scientific inquiry, utilizing essay as well objective questions. Use of a standardized test for a subsample of the students ought to be considered. Finally, while the course appears to be doing a good job of teaching the fundamental content of the natural sciences, there is evidence that it is not so successful at changing negative student attitudes toward science. Those revising the course in the future might explore ways in which the natural sciences can be made more appealing to the non-science major.
The long form of Dr. Georgian's report.
Return to beginning of paper.