Assessment of the Integrated Natural Science Sequence at the University of Dayton

Heidi Scheirer McGrew, University of Dayton
Mary Ellen Dillon, University of Dayton

The Integrated Natural Science Sequence (INSS) at the University of Dayton is embarked upon a program of assessment. The coordinators of the sequence are working with a faculty committee and two associate deans to evaluate the sequence on a variety of levels. Every semester, INSS courses enroll about 1200 students and involve about 35 faculty members in four different science departments. Integrating and assessing a cross-disciplinary sequence involving so many participants creates unique challenges. Some of the critical issues are: Can we devise ways to use assessment as a means toward integration of courses? How can we assess student science knowledge in a meaningful way and what tools can we use to assess the sequence on levels as varied as student outcomes, faculty outcomes and sequence-level outcomes?

Undergraduate Arts and Education majors at the University of Dayton are required for graduation to take courses in the Integrated Natural Science Sequence. The sequence begins with an introductory physics course. For the next two courses, the students choose one of two tracks: a geology/biology track or a chemistry/biology track. Most students are required to take 3 INSS courses (physics, geology and biology or physics, chemistry and biology) and 2 INSS labs. Students are strongly advised to take the courses in the correct order and to take the appropriate lab when they take a lecture course. A particularly important target group of students are the education majors, most of whom are taking INSS courses as their only science classes and many of whom will be going on to teach science to elementary through middle school students.

The INSS is a series of courses that build upon each other and integrate various themes across the courses and across the four disciplines. The sequence integrative themes are energy, evolution and the environment. Implicit themes are exploration of the nature of science and development of critical thinking.

The INSS was piloted at UD in 1994/5 with education majors. Full student enrollment began in 1995/1996. In August 2000, Mary Ellen Dillon (Biology) and Heidi McGrew (Geology) were hired to coordinate the sequence, to promote integration among courses and faculty, to develop a tutoring program for the physics course, and to assess the sequence.

During the first phase of implementation and assessment, we focused primarily on pragmatic issues such as course sequencing, enrollment patterns, barriers to integration, and broad concept coverage comparisons. Since Fall 2000, we have conducted a survey every semester in all of the INSS lecture sections. We have begun assessment of course content as well. The INSS faculty have been very active in attending integrative workshops and exchanging data on content coverage in each of the courses. We (the INSS coordinators) have developed and continue to develop common resources on our website ( and in a small text and video library. Other assessment tools currently employed are integrative essays assigned by individual instructors and surveys for the faculty involving content and integrative topics.

In Fall 2001, the INSS coordinators generated the outline for an assessment plan based on the university mission statement and the goals of the original Integrated Natural Science Sequence documents. The assessment plan isSP attached to this essay. The assessment plan includes outcomes on a variety of levels: sequence outcomes, student outcomes and faculty outcomes. The plan also encompasses a mixture of quantitative and qualitative goals and tools.

The assessment of the Integrated Natural Science Sequence at the University of Dayton involves a variety of challenges on different levels. The coordinators of the sequence are working with faculty from four different disciplines and examining integration and assessment in the entire sequence.

INSS Assessment Plan

University of Dayton Mission

The University of Dayton is a comprehensive Catholic university, a diverse community committed, in the Marianist tradition, to educating the whole person and to linking learning and scholarship with leadership and service.

-> "educating whole person", "communal learning and challenge", "integration", "leadership and service"

-> INSS Objectives

The primary objective of this sequence of courses is the attainment of scientific literacy for our students. We feel that an integrated sequence of courses will present a core of fundamental knowledge necessary to understand and appreciate the nature of scientific reality. These courses will emphasize critical thinking, scientific concepts, and fundamental laws. They will bring University of Dayton students to a level of thinking that will allow them to make informed decisions on issues based on scientific principles. As proposed, the INSS will provide students with (1) an understanding of how science works, (2) integrated basic knowledge in science to understand scientific problems and challenges, and (3) knowledge of the limits of science and how science proceeds in our society.
  • scientific literacy
    • nature & limits of science
    • critical thinking skills
  • core scientific knowledge based around the integrated themes of energy, evolution, & environment

INSS Outcomes
(specific outcomes to be created in consultation with INSS steering committee?)

  1. Faculty outcomes
  2. Student outcomes
    • Original
    • Revised
  3. Sequence outcomes

  1. Sequence Level Outcomes
    1. Does this sequence work logistically?
      1. Are students taking the courses in order?
      2. Are students taking corresponding lab with lecture?
      3. Who (numbers, service units) is taking INSS courses?
      4. What year in school are students?
      5. Is the sequence interrupted or continuous?
    2. Does the sequence reinforce university competencies?
      1. Mathematical
      2. Information
      3. Reading/Writing
      4. Oral, Etc.
    3. Do students perceive integration in sequence?
  2. Student Level Outcomes
    1. Achievement/Conceptual Outcomes
      1. Nature and limits of science
      2. Scientific literacy
      3. Thematic: Energy, Evolution, Environment
    2. Attitudes
      1. Towards science
      2. Towards learning science
      3. Towards INSS sequence
      4. About tutoring
      5. Post-graduate
  3. Faculty Level Assessment/Outcomes
    1. INSS Faculty
    2. Coverage
      1. Consistency within disciplines
      2. Development of three "E's:" Energy, Evolution, Environment
      3. Addressing nature and limits of science
    3. Integration
      1. Integration of concepts among courses
      2. Use of common resources
      3. Workshop participation
    4. Attitudes about content and success of sequence
      1. B&B
      2. Workshops
      3. Common resources
      4. INSS coordinators
      5. Tutoring
    5. Humanities faculty
      1. Understanding of sequence
      2. Attitudes about content and success of sequence
      3. User of common resources
    6. Education Faculty
      1. Understanding of sequence
      2. Attitudes about content and success of sequence
      3. User of tutoring program