Building Strong Geoscience Departments > Workshops > Assessing Geoscience Programs > Participants and their Contributions > Karen Rose Cercone
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Student Outcomes Assessment at IUP

Karen Rose Cercone, Geoscience Department, Indiana University of Pennsylvania


Outcomes assessment has been an aspect of the IUP Geoscience Department's self reviews since the 1980's, but until 2005, it was primarily conducted through informal exit interviews with graduating students and occasional surveys of alumni. At that time, I attended a student outcomes assessment workshop conducted at IUP by Dr. Barbara Walvoord. Using her suggestions, the department was able to focus on our goals, examine our curriculum and establish the use of concrete assessment tools.

For our departmental majors programs (Geology, Environmental Geology and Earth & Space Science Education), we tried to focus on learning goals which bridged all three programs, and which could be assessed in classes taken by our entire major population. Our goals included general outcomes that all of our courses could teach and assess, such as the development of 1) better oral and written communication skills and 2) better quantitative skills. We also wanted to make sure that our students were learning and practicing important 3) professional skills such as using a Brunton Compass, as well as mastering 4) critical content such as plate tectonics and evolution.

After we established learning goals for our students, each department member completed detailed questionnaires listing the subset of goals that he/she taught in upper-level courses and what specific activities were assigned to accomplish those goals. We were able to identify several places where the same goal could be re-assessed at a later stage of the major program in order to see whether students were making progress or building on previous learning. Implementation of major assessment has been spotty, however, because it relies on individual professors to carry out each part in their own classes, and we have no mechanism for those professors to report back their data to the department as a whole. This is a major weakness of our assessment program and limits its usefulness.

The most successful assessments we have instituted so far are those that measure general skills and that can be incorporated into senior capstone courses (a research seminar for two of our majors and a student teaching demonstration for the third one). Rubrics (e.g. IUP Senior Research Presentation Rubric) have been created that allow multiple faculty to record their assessments consistently, and these have been archived in paper form along with electronic records of the student work that was assessed. However, one issue that still remains to be tackled is whether professional skills and content knowledge can be assessed as easily in this way as communication and quantitative skills.

At the same time as we established our assessment goals for majors, we also tried to establish goals for our non-major (introductory) students. It was easy to find learning goals for them in the science requirements of the general studies program, but it has been much more difficult to assess student outcomes effectively for the large introductory classes we teach. This is still an issue we are grappling with and have not solved.

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