Setting Goals for Student Learning and How Those Goals Shaped the Design/Adaptation of Our Future

William J. Hoese, California State University Fullerton

The Department of Biological Science at California State University Fullerton (CSUF) is implementing a major curricular revision of the biology major's program in fall 2002 (with two pilots offered spring 2002). Planning for this revision has involved the majority of the 24 faculty in the department working as collaborative teams and is based on explicit identification of student learning outcomes for the entire curriculum and for each of the four new core courses that are replacing the current eight core courses. This approach to curricular development is new to department faculty and has been used as a means to focus on student- centered learning rather than on attempting to cover an ever-expanding list of topics in biology. Faculty have been working in groups called Teaching Collaboratives, according to their expertise, to develop the four new core courses. The new core courses will incorporate active learning and inquiry- based activities in both the lecture and laboratory sections in order to meet the learning goals for the core curriculum.

We have recently received NSF funding to establish an assessment item bank linked to the learning outcomes of each core course that have been field-tested and validated. We are beginning to collect these assessment items and will evaluate and link them to specific curricular learning objectives. The majority of the assessment items that we have accumulated thus far appear to be for the lower levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. While factual knowledge is important in the sciences, understanding the enduring principles, their application and reinterpretation require different modes of assessment. Thus, a major goal of this new project is to develop an assessment item and scoring rubric bank that will be a dynamic and evolving collection of quality, field-tested assessment items linked to specific course objectives focusing on higher order thinking. The purpose of developing quality course assessments is to improve instruction and to attain the student learning outcomes articulated for each course and the core curriculum as a whole. With the major restructuring of the core curriculum, a means to assess the impact of these changes is necessary at the level of each course. The revised core courses have a different emphasis than traditional courses; they focus on student conceptual understanding, critical thinking, and problem solving skills in biology rather than basic content knowledge in biology. The laboratory activities will stress the acquisition of these skills by focusing on inquiry-based modules that span several weeks.

We plan to adapt and use the "Assessment Wizard" software [developed by the Educational Testing Service in collaboration with Grant Wiggins] to develop assessments of critical thinking skills and associated scoring rubrics that are linked to the major concepts and themes of the core courses. The software was developed for K-12 teachers to link assessments to national standards and will be adapted to the learning outcomes of the four core courses. The software provides a storage system for individual and group portfolios of assessments and rubrics. We anticipate using the Assessment Wizard will facilitate collaboration among faculty members in the creation of assessments.

We selected the following assessment techniques based their reported effectiveness for assessing conceptual learning that involved construction of concepts, their application, and their ease of use. Many are dependent on technology for their delivery and for evaluation and will be used for both formative and summative evaluations. 1) Rubrics to evaluate student laboratory and field notebooks, performance tasks, solutions to biological problems, research project summaries, short essays, papers and presentations. These are the products of the course activities that will be used to develop student critical thinking skills. Some of the assessment methods outlined online, such as at the Field Tested Learning Assessment website will be incorporated. Currently, there are almost no contributions in biology at this website, which is strongly supported by the physical science educational community. Rubrics will be especially important to guide teaching assistants in the laboratories for summative assessment of student performance in the inquiry-based activities. 2) Concept mapping is a tool for both assessment and for learning. It can be used as a formative assessment and can capture students misconceptions and deeper conceptual understanding over time. Constructing these maps allows students to build on and organize their learning and is especially effective for students who are not yet fluent in English. Research suggests that students retain knowledge of the content of concept maps they construct and are able to apply knowledge learned to novel problems. An effective use of concept maps is to have students construct them and critique each other's map based on a rubric and to use different maps to initiate discussions. In the process of supporting and providing a rationale for their constructs, students demonstrate higher levels of cognitive ability. 3) Calibrated Peer Review, or CPR, is a web-based tool to use writing as a learning and an assessment tool and is currently available free through the University of California Los Angeles. Students evaluate each other's writing as well as their own, after they undergo a calibration of their ability to critique samples of the assignment product provided by the instructor. The instructor provides three examples of writing on a specific task that are rated on a scale from 1 through 10. The evaluation of these samples serves as the calibration, and each student's scoring of their peers is weighted on the basis of how well he or she scored in the calibration. By the end of the activity, a student will have read and critiqued seven writing samples. The advantages of this tool are that the writing assignment can be carried out asynchronously in large classes, the instructor can purposely focus on concepts in the samples used for the calibration, and the CPR assignment can be used repeatedly. Writing is one of the best ways to assess student understanding, and CPR makes it possible to have more writing assignments in a large class. Several faculty are already using CPR in their courses, and the infrastructure to enroll students and develop a library of CPR assignments is in place.

The assessment items developed by the faculty teaching the core courses will be tested in their courses, and the student work resulting from the assessments of critical thinking will be examined by faculty in the Teaching Collaborative for a particular course.