Evaluating Learning

Each week, students were given study questions to help them prepare for the biweekly quizzes. Here are examples. The complete set of study questions can be found on the calendar at the course web site.

What kind of Student and Course Assessment Strategies Are Used?

Assessment of student prior knowledge

Both years, we assessed student background knowledge of nuclear chemistry and Navajo history by using an anonymous survey administered on the first day of class. In general, the students performed better on those questions relating to science than they did on ones relating to culture. In fact, the students' performance on the questions showed that they knew almost nothing about Navajo history and culture. Fewer than half could correctly label the four states that comprise the Four Corners region, and very few could list an event in Navajo history. Given this, we dedicated class time to familiarizing the students with the geographic region, including features such as the state boundaries, major highways, cities, vegetation, and land formations.

Results from selected questions are summarized below, combining the data from the spring semesters of 2003 and 2004.

Questions Number of correct answers Number of incorrect answers
What does the 238 in Uranium-238 mean? 21 24
Define the term "half-life." 35 10
U-238 is an alpha emitter. Write the nuclear reaction. 14 31
What is meant by the term "ionizing radiation?" 16 29
What is the relationship between these two words? Navajo and Dine (Dineh). 9 36
Draw and label the four states of the Four Corners Region on the figure below. 16 29
Describe any event in the history of the Navajo people. Give as much detail as you can. 3 42



Exams & Quizzes

Sample Quiz Questions (Acrobat (PDF) 63kB Jul16 08)
Class Presentation Self-Assessment Form (Acrobat (PDF) 11kB Jul16 08)

Class Presentation Peer Assessment Form (Acrobat (PDF) 11kB Jul16 08)

Paper 1st draft assessment (Microsoft Word 21kB Jul16 08)

Paper final draft assessment (Acrobat (PDF) 11kB Jul16 08)

SALG (Acrobat (PDF) 108kB Jul16 08)

Concluding Thoughts and Challenges

From the outset, this course challenged the instructors, both intellectually and personally. The challenge was intellectual in the sense that the course blended equal parts of culture and chemistry. Such a course had never been taught before at our institution, and only because of a campus wide general education requirement were we able to find a home for it in the curriculum. Both the Department of Chemistry and the Ethnic Studies Review committee scrutinized the course, as a science course that met the ethnic studies requirement was unfamiliar (if not implausible) to both.

The content challenged the instructors as well. They wanted to give equal weight to chemistry and culture, yet never isolate one from the other. Difficulties in structuring the course content and process were compounded by the fact that Omie Baldwin knew little or no chemistry, and Cathy Middlecamp knew little or no Navajo history or culture. Throughout both the design and the teaching of the course, the instructors were truly dependent on each other in that the expertise of both of them was required.

It was possible to meet these intellectual challenges, as this document demonstrates. We extend the same challenge to others: to blend culture and science, thereby enriching students' (and our own) understanding of the complexities that connect them. A chemist quipped to Cathy, "But I don't have a Navajo colleague to teach with me," perhaps trying to get off the hook for ever teaching this type of course.

But success at this task is not dependent on having any one particular colleague. Rather, the key lies in joining a person who knows science with a person who knows a particular cultural issue. Many of the issues that face communities of people could serve as a basis for course. Consider, for example, coal miners in Appalachia, AIDS patients in the southern United States, or indigenous people near the oil fields in Alaska.

In thinking about the possibilities, this representation may serve as a useful as a starting point.

Final thoughts diagram

The men and women affected by coal mining could be placed at the outer ring, and you could teach inwards to air quality, fuel combustion, chemical reactions and stoichiometry. Along the path you may encounter the black lung disease of the miners, the acid deposition from burning coal, and perhaps societal needs for energy. Again, the possibilities are limitless.

However, to be honest, we must admit that some of the personal challenges we encountered did not leave us with the same sense of satisfaction. The greatest difficulty lay in the fact that teaching the course drained the personal resources of both instructors. By and large, this situation arose because too many duties were added to the instructors without subtracting others. Omie Baldwin received 25% release time, yet as a health professional new to the world of teaching/learning, this was insufficient to compensate for the time and energy the course (and its students) required of her. Cathy Middlecamp contributed her time as an overload, with no reduction of previous duties. Even with a 25% graduate Teaching Assistant to assist her, the combined workload was not manageable.

Again we offer the challenge to the wider community. If we are to create new knowledge or to create new ways of configuring "old" knowledge, we need to find workable professional pathways for this type of scholarship. And for the sake of our students, our professions, and our planet, we need to connect this science with the issues that face us and our world. We have struggled with the issues. And we look forward to join with all who wish to be part of this conversation in the years to come.