Assessment of Geography/Geology at Illinois State University

Eric Peterson, Department of Geography and Geology, Illinois State University

I should begin by saying that I have limited experiences with the assessment of our undergraduate program, but I have served on the assessment committee for our graduate program. My background to our undergraduate program is limited to the information provided by our Assessment Committee and is as follows:

The Assessment Plan for the Geology program has recently been revised. Previously, assessment of the Geology program was done in two different ways, one formal and one informal. Formal assessment was a two-part written (value added) assessment instrument for testing freshman and seniors. The first part involved a written self-assessment of student competence, ability, understanding, or skill relevant to the geologic profession and is consistent with our program objectives. The second part was a multiple-choice exam, with questions ranging from basic knowledge to synthesis and interpretation.

As a baseline, several sections of Geology 105 (Introduction to Geology I) and/or Geology 102 (Principles of Geology) were tested annually, whether or not any of the students are declared Geology majors. All majors are given the same test near the conclusion of Field Geology, our capstone course. This constitutes our measure for baseline and value-added data.

In addition, a third part of the formal assessment was a form on which faculty rate each student for 12 abilities critical to the professional practice of Geology. The evaluation took place during the capstone course, Field Geology, wherein faculty members spend six weeks working directly with the students in the field. This course involves application of skills, collection of data, synthesis and analysis of information, and presentation of results as maps and cross-sections. This provides as insightful an assessment, student by student, as is possible by any assessment option.

Our current assessment plan has four components. They are:

  1. A report that is embedded in GEO 396 Field Geology. The report is designed to assess the major goals of the program. Students complete the report while at field camp. This project was administered for the first time in June 2004.
  2. A student portfolio. Students generate a portfolio by accumulating course work that highlight how they believe they have reached a goal. All majors are asked to continue to compile and regularly update a portfolio of their work in light of the goals. Students rarely submit portfolios, which makes this assessment tool difficult to use.
  3. An evaluation of oral communication skills that is embedded in the research project that is associated with GEO 296-Sedimentology.
  4. An exit interview designed to have students recollect their experiences. The interview is conducted by the Geography-Geology Assessment Committee during a student's final term in residence.

Within the graduate program, we use two forms of assessment 1) a report in our capstone course, a three-week field course and 2) exit interviews.

The report is designed to assess how students apply theoretical concepts to a real world scenario. Over the years, the project has evolved as the faculty came to realize certain goals were not being assessed through the report. The current structure of the report focuses on the main goals of the program. We use the assessment data to modify our graduate curriculum to better serve the students. If goals were not being meet, faculty alter course content, projects, delivery mechanisms, etc. to better convey the topics.

The exit interviews are conducted by a graduate faculty member other than the student's main advisor. The interviews are designed to solicit student feedback concerning their perception of how the programmatic goals were met. The results have helped the faculty understand how students receive the content of the courses and whether the student's perception of a course meeting programmatic goals is correlated to actual achievement of meeting of the goals.