2009 Biology Undergraduate


2008-2009 Assessment Report for: Department:   Biology         Major/Program: Biology
Department Mission: The mission of the Biology department is to provide students with a relevant education for biomedical and biotechnological careers, to lead in molecular biological research, and to serve the University and the scientific community.

Learning Outcomes
Assessment Procedures
Assessment Results
(Please do not list more than 8 objectives.) At the completion of the program, students will be able to:
Which assessment activities were used for each objective (dates)? Note whether they are direct (D) or indirect (I) measures. List any others you plan to implement.
What were your findings?
1. Use basic principles of science to analyze, to explain, and to apply biological information and concepts.
a. Compare student answers to demanding essay questions on exams in 300 and 400 level classes. These questions will be integrative in nature, and will require the students to use the knowledge that they have gained. For example, students will be asked to design an experiment to test a specific hypothesis, or to analyze and interpret a data set. Each year, we will devote a Department meeting to examining and assessing a sample of student answers to these demanding essay questions. The sample will consist of a few excellent answers and a few average answers from each class. (D)
b. Compare term papers in which students were required to write short grant proposals. These papers will require students to collect and understand existing data in a particular area of biological science, integrate this information into a coherent whole, discover the unanswered questions and missing pieces, and design experiments to answer the questions. Each year, we will devote a Department meeting to examining and assessing a sample of student term papers of this type. The sample will consist of a few excellent reports and a few average reports from each class. Many of our upper division courses already assign these kinds of written grant proposals, so this assessment method will let us pay more attention to the overall progress of our students in acquiring this demanding skill. A science student writing a research proposal is equivalent to a mechanical engineering student designing a bridge: it is a practical, real-world application of knowledge and skills. (D)
c. Track placement of B.S. graduates into graduate programs, professional schools (medical, veterinary), and the scientific workforce. (I)
a.   We reviewed midterm and final exams for Shors' and Rogelj's Advanced Cell Biology: Cancer course. The essay answers were generally well written, which may reflect our increased emphasis on scientific writing. This upper level course minimized lectures and emphasized a discussion approach to learning. The discussions as well as the tests were usually focused on figures from reading material as a means of focusing on concepts and data supporting those concepts. Other Biology faculty are generally very interested in this and other non-lecture based approaches. With regard to figure-based testing, it was suggested to include questions that specifically solicit responses that address the mechanisms and implications of the phenomena portrayed in the figures as well as the simple "face value" meanings.    
b. We reviewed proposals written for Dr. Reiss’s Molecular Ecology course (BIOL 455/564 course) and drew the following conclusions:
 These grad students and upper level undergrads are competent writers. The writing style is generally very good.
 In some cases, there was a poor connection between the stated testable hypotheses and tests of those hypotheses. We should further stress the importance of appropriate tests.
 We should make a new rubric for assessing future proposal-writing exercises. 
 Students should be given example proposals since most have not previously read one.
 Peer-review of proposals (and other student writing) works well and should be used where appropriate.
 Undergrads should begin reading original research papers early in the curriculum. This will help them by showing them examples of scientific writing and by helping them to learn to understand and evaluate scientific results.
c.   Professional schools: Four of four students applying to medical school in '07-'08 were accepted, a new high for our program. We do not yet have results for '08-'09 applicants. Four of the four students applying to veterinary school this year were accepted at Colorado State University. These 4 students will comprise 3% of the CSU entering class and 40% of the 10-student quota accepted from New Mexico. One grad who applied to dental school was admitted. One grad who applied to Physical Therapy school was admitted. One student is in nursing school at UNM. These success rates set new highs for our department. We attribute these high success rates to the quality of our students, but also to the quality of our advising (especially emphasis on non-classroom based attributes) and the invaluable help of our adjunct M.D.s and D.V.M.'s (including help with practice interviews).
Graduate school: Students graduating with a B.S, in Biology went to grad programs at U.N.M. (4), Columbia University, the University of Oregon, Brigham Young Univ., and N.M. Tech. 
Scientific workforce: One student is working at Socorro General Hospital while she waits to hear if she is admitted to medical school. 
·         Nearly every graduate for whom we have follow-up information has remained in science.
2. Design and implement biological research and report findings orally and in writing.
a. Read and discuss a sample of lab reports from student-designed experiments in Ecology Lab, Environmental Microbiology Lab, Physiology Lab, etc. Compare the above lab reports between years, and between classes, to look for improvement in student understanding of experimental design, and data analysis and interpretation. For all courses above the freshman level; include essay questions on the final exams that ask students to design experiments or analyze data. Compare the answers to these questions over time, and between classes.(D)
b. Assess the quality of student oral presentations in the Senior Seminar (Bio 471) course. Compare the quality of presentations over time. (D)
c. Compare a selection of lab notebooks from students who are conducting research in our laboratories. Also, require these students to give a short oral presentation each semester, and compare the quality of these talks over time. (D)
d. Tabulate and count number of students who are coauthors on research publications with Biology faculty. (I)
e. As general biology is the keystone course for biology majors and also serves other majors, we will implement direct assessment of student learning progress through a series of assessment instruments designed using the Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG) Internet site. This will include a baseline instrument that students complete before the first exam. Students fill out the same instrument at the end of the course and the results will be compared. In addition, students will be asked to fill out an assessment instrument designed to evaluate effectiveness of specific active learning exercises that are currently being introduced into the course.
a. We did not evaluate lab reports this year.
b. In Biology 471, each student now gives several short talks during the semester, in cooperation with other members of their small group. We have noticed that the speaking skills of most students increased over the semester as they gained more experience.
Many of the small-group talks were hurried, as students tried to present too much material. In response, we have made the instructions to the students more specific. In addition, we now spend the first two weeks of the semester "modeling" exactly how we want the students to work together in this course. In front of the students, a model group of four faculty members chose a topic, discussed how to present the material, and gave a short talk to the class, using the same methods that we expect the students to use. 
c. We did not evaluate the lab notebooks of student researchers this year. We did increase the number of seminar presentations given by undergraduate researchers on work performed at NMT or in summer programs elsewhere. These were generally of a very high quality and were well received. These help our student researchers learn to present their findings to a group and also motivate other students to become engaged in scientific research.
d.   Four undergraduate students were co-authors with Biology faculty members on two peer-reviewed publications. Seven undergrads were co-authors with Biology faculty on six posters presented at scientific meetings.
e. Ongoing 
Use of Results: What departmental, curricular, or instructional changes will be made based on these assessment results?
·         Undergrads should begin reading original research papers (classic papers and also recent, state-of-the-art papers) early in the curriculum. This will help them by showing them examples of scientific writing and by helping them to learn to understand and evaluate scientific results. This is also valuable in conveying the scientific approach and specific methodology in biology.     We will emphasize this in Introductory Biology I and II as well as upper division courses, e.g., Introductory Microbiology, Environmental Microbiology, Physiology, and Experimental Physiology.
·         All of the Biology faculty are enthusiastic about adding figure-based learning and testing exercises to their tool chests of non-lecture-based approaches.
·         Another non-lecture based learning approach is being implemented in Physiology I and II. This involves the use of in-class, instructor-guided, group problem-solving exercises, allowing students to apply their factual knowledge to solve a novel problem. 
·         We will schedule more of our undergraduate researchers to present 1/2-hour talks on their research as part of our seminar series as this has been a great success.
·         We’ve made small adjustments to our Biology 471 capstone seminar class format, as described above. We’re team teaching the course again this spring semester and are beginning to assess the effects of these changes.   

Submitted by: Thomas L. Kieft                                                                                Date:16 February 2009
Department Chair: Thomas L. Kieft