Closing the loop on a student-by-student basis:
Our general assessment philosophy has aspired to measure our learning outcomes in successive required classes. Those students identified to be not meeting or exceeding expectations early in their education are noted. The professor teaching those early classes informs the rest of the department which students are in need of special attention or encouragement to meet a learning outcome. In this way we strive to have all of our students meeting all learning outcomes by the time they graduate.
We have been most successful with this approach as applied to our “communication of geological knowledge in written and oral forms commonly used by professionals.” Major writing assignments are required in GSCI 210, GSCI 220, GSCI 331, GSCI 341, GSCI 351, and GSCI 361. Students who perform poorly on their GSCI 220 paper are flagged and the GSCI 220 instructor (Farthing) are identified for the GSCI 341 (Giorgis) and/or GSCI 361 (Over) professors. We explain the writing requirement for the major, how the student(s) need to improve to meet the requirement, and the resources available to assist them reaching their goal. In a similar manner, those students with poor writing skills leaving GSCI 341 or 361 (Fall classes) are noted to the professors teaching GSCI 331 or 351 (Spring classes).
We approach the oral discourse portion of this goal in the same way. Students are required to give two presentations in GSCI 341 and GSCI 391. Those that do poorly in their first class are noted and encouraged to take steps to improve in the second class.
Learning outcome goals three (understand theory behind analytical equipment commonly used in the geosciences) and four (understand operation of analytical equipment commonly used in the geosciences) have the potential to be addressed in the same way. Theory and practice of major instruments are used in successive required classes (GSCI 210, 220, 361). We do not, however, formally communicate scores on these goals for each student from semester to semester. We need to formalize this communication to track and help students improve on these goals.
Closing the loop on a department wide basis:
Our first learning outcome, “professional advancement through employment or graduate school as a demonstration of knowledge of geology and principles of science”, has been the focus of our most recent “closing the loop” discussion within the department. It has become clear in the last three years that fewer of our students are going to graduate school directly after completion of the degree program at Geneseo. As long as this learning outcome is measured over a five year time period, we do achieve an 80% score, but if we consider a shorter time series (i.e. one year) we do not reach an 80% success rate. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however it is a change. Based on this information we have made a conscious effort to inform students about graduate school sooner and on a more regular basis to insure that they know their options. Anecdotally, this seems to be working. More students have applied to graduate school in the last two years than in the previous two. It is difficult to know if this observation is significant.
Secondly, Academic Program Assessment Committee (APAC) noted, employment or graduate school is an indirect measure of the how well our students “demonstrate knowledge of geology and principles of science.” We need to come up with a direct measure of this information and have considered two options: first, our junior-senior capstone seminar. This class (GSCI 391) requires students to synthesize much of their geological knowledge in the context of a two-week long field trip and a research project that follows. We use this as a forum to evaluate student oral communication skills (Learning Outcome #2). Furthermore, students are required to propose and complete their own original research project as part of the class. This clearly requires students to use the “principles of science” and “demonstrate knowledge of geology.” Using this as a measure has two downsides: (1) students often work in pairs, so it is difficult to evaluate individual contributions and (2)students demonstrate knowledge of geology with respect to the specific need to complete their project. Most students select a project topic in a field in which they are comfortable and knowledgeable, therefore using this as a direct measure will likely yield scores that will tend to be higher. At this time, this is our best idea. We have considered using a nation-wide professional geologist examination administered by Associate of State Boards of Geologists (ASBOG). At this time we are unwilling to pursue this route because it is an expensive exam and it covers several areas that the faculty at Geneseo do not teach (e.g., Engineering Geology or Seismology).