Like most departments Biology has continually considered how it might improve its program. With the development of the assessment process, we have posted yearly reports since the 2003-04 academic year and have used the assessment results, along with other information, to consider how our program might be improved.
Several of our formal assessments (2003-04, 2004-05, 2008-09, and 2009-10) have focused on how well we develop skills related to communication and research, both as it relates to SUNY-wide learning outcomes and also to our own departmental learning outcomes. The assessment process, along with other factors, helped trigger an increased emphasis in developing communication and research skills across our entire curriculum. Assessment results indicated that we were covering these areas well and that the development of these skills was coming from the earlier exposure to them, not to the senior seminar requirement. This in turn has led us to eliminate, in 2010, a requirement to take a senior level course (usually a seminar) that was devoted to this area. Our feeling is that these skills are better developed before the senior year and that our curricular changes over the past fifteen years have allowed us to cover these skills at earlier points in students careers, consequently negating the need for the senior level course.
The 2005-06 assessment considered how well an understanding of, and an appreciation for, the evolutionary process was being developed in our students. The results indicated that we probably could be doing a better job. While we have not made large-scale curricular changes (e.g. a required course on evolution) to address this area, the discussions have resulted in an increased awareness of the issue.
The 2006-07 assessment looked at issues related to advising, an area that has been affected by the steady increase in the number of biology majors. The most obvious product resulting from the assessment was development of an on-line student handbook. A number of other changes have taken place as well, e.g. the development of a seminar on getting into graduate school
The 2007-08 assessment considered the significance of eliminating the sequencing of the two semesters of our introductory General Biology sequence. The results indicted that the sequencing was of little consequence but the issue as a whole decreased in significance as other factors dictated that we go back to a specific sequencing. However, the information on how students perform in these courses has proved to be useful as we consider policies that influence how long poorly performing students should continue to stick with the biology major.