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.

Summary from Dr. Georgian's report

            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 College.

            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 others (2.1).

             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.


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