Sigma Xi Statement - Cliff Chancey
Cliff Chancey, University of Northern Iowa
There was a time not long ago when mentioning the word "assessment" in science departments would garner you looks and comments usually reserved for the scientifically feeble. Those times are mostly gone. Yet assessment is still misunderstood though it is grudgingly respected for its indispensability in garnering resources, both for research and for teaching. Most faculty now ponder "learning outcomes" and wonder how best they might be measured. Courses and programs now are decorated with goals and objectives and outcome measures. Assessment has the lip service and even some respect from faculty but it is all too often used merely to justify rather than to plan or improve. Why aren't science faculty more engaged? They care about science and about education so why isn't assessment of central importance to them? Why? Because they limit assessment to a dry, external measure of basic knowledge-which even at its best misses the central spark of what science truly is. Science faculty believe that assessment is a quality control issue but they miss its quality creation aspect, and thereby lose enthusiasm. The goal must be to help science faculty to see that assessment must be practiced globally, not locally; that it must be as authentic as science and, in fact, that IT MUST BE SCIENCE. I was my university's chief assessment overseer for two years. I know the pains that science faculty feel in building outcomes assessment into their courses and programs. I understand the time strain as a science faculty member myself. My colleagues and I have wrestled with how to build in authentic summative assessment. Capstone and senior research projects were our method of choice. Yet even these were often local constructs. How did our undergraduate students' senior projects stack up against those at other colleges? We weren't sure. In fact, what had our students learned about the dissemination of science, the give and take, the revision? Not much, other than the questioning they had to endure from us during presentation time. Measuring the critical and creative skills of undergraduate scientists requires that we ask them to practice as we practice. This means requiring them to write their own research reports for publication; letting them respond to reviewers; letting them fully answer and take responsibility for their scientific work. This can best be done in refereed, undergraduate research journals. They provide serious tutorial help; they offer outside research assessments; not least, they provide a venue that most research supervisors will restrain themselves from interfering with (at least in comparison to undergraduate co-authored papers in the standard literature). Undergraduate scientists and their research mentors get the most authentic assessment review from such a process. I and research colleagues from across this country and the world are attempting to provide an international forum for undergraduate scientists, the American Journal of Undergraduate Research. It is scientific assessment in its most authentic and realistic form.