Assessment at the University of Hawaii-Hilo

Steve Lundblad, Department Geology, University of Hawaii-Hilo

Assessment of students in our department is currently based almost entirely on informal analysis by the faculty. While this works well for the current configuration of our small department (4 faculty and approximately 25 majors), we strive for a more formal venue to examine our students' progress and achievements.

Because we are part of a small teaching institution (~3000 students), faculty tend to teach a broad range of courses throughout the year. Individual faculty usually teach two required core requirements in a year-long sequence (e.g. mineralogy-petrology). This provides an excellent opportunity for us to determine the extent to which material was retained from the first course of the sequence and reflect on which of the outcomes were met with the best success. Unfortunately, the size of our department acts as a hindrance as we typically teach core major courses on an alternating year schedule.

We also have a cross-departmental natural sciences seminar, in which all of our seniors participate. This senior seminar is an excellent opportunity for our students to demonstrate their geologic knowledge, and provides us with a measure independent from regular coursework to evaluate our students near the end of the academic journey here at UH-Hilo.

Recently, we redesigned our alumni webpage in an attempt to gather significantly more information about our students. Our alumni survey results will be complied on the departmental webpage. While there is an inherent bias to positive views, as these students are more likely to respond, we get a decent measure of how well-prepared students feel for success, whether in graduate school or in a career. We have been informally collecting this information for years, but are making a concerted effort to reach all of our alumni.

As we move to more formalized assessment, there are a number of questions that we ponder:

  • What should a geology graduate look like?
  • How does our geology core curriculum compare with other programs?
  • What standards should we strive to meet?
  • Is there an effective way to implement a capstone experience such as a senior project (thesis) that will not disrupt our current teaching loads and courses?
  • How will our assessment data change the way we operate? Will we modify course offerings or programs based on the data?

In summary, we feel current informal assessment of our students is a reasonably reliable estimate of how well we are serving them. In order to improve our understanding of the department's effectiveness, we hope to introduce assessment activities that provide pertinent and adequate information for our department.