It is easy to start up a program and think the work is done. Nothing could be further from the truth! Good science programs are always trying new things, evaluating, gathering info from the workforce, talking to graduates now in professional schools, etc. Good programs are on a never-ending quest for program improvement.
Where does the information come from to drive adjustments? At McMurry, all academic departments undergo annual assessment of their programs. We are given the liberty to select what aspect of our program to evaluate in a given year. Some programs evaluate what they are good at so they can check off the box saying they are successful. Biology at McMurry takes a different tack. We see assessment as an opportunity to uncover our weaknesses so we might make adjustments to strengthen our program for the benefit of future students. In the past, this led to the creation of the BIMS degree and Life Sciences degree to complement the Biology degree. Our approach to assessment is discovery of information to guide ongoing program improvement.
So what does Biology use to help measure program quality and success. We use internal and external measures. Internally, we use a diagnostic exam taken during the Junior year to see how well our lower-level courses are performing to prepare our students for upper level work. For BIMS majors, this is accomplished in BIMS 4000 Junior exam, a degree requirement. The course carries no load credit, and features an online exam created in-house that can be taken as often as desired until an acceptable score is achieved. The feedback is invaluable! If we find an abundance of missed questions in a particular area, we know we have a course we need to work on. We also have an internal measure of quality based on the students’ capstone research projects. This senior project and resulting research poster are very telling in how well a student can “go deep” integrating the breadth of their coursework to guide them. Is this student ready to enter work or research or professional school with a toolkit and the experience to do more than just talk about their discipline?
We also use external measures. Students take the ETS Major Field Test in Biology in the BIMS 4000 course. This gives us valuable information about how our students compare with those from hundreds of other Biology programs around the nation, both in their composite scores for biology knowledge in general, and in the subscore areas appropriate to their degree program. Our seniors also take the Collegiate Learning Assessment exam to measure growth of writing and reasoning skills over their four years of college. Also nationally-normed, this provides additional confirmation of the quality of their education in comparison with students from across the nation in a variety of college majors. And finally, we look at the success of our students in using their degree to further their careers – entry into a science-centered job, acceptance into a science graduate program, or acceptance into a professional school program. Their success beyond McMurry and the feedback they provide helps us emphasize what is important and eliminated wasted effort for future students aspiring to similar careers.
How intentional is your science department in assessing its quality?