James W. Perry jperry at UWC.EDU
Tue Jan 21 18:06:58 EST 1997

On 03 January I sent the following message and indicated I would summarize
the repsonses. Below are the only four I received. I would have to admit
that I am disappointed that there were so few responses, but on the other
hand they are quality repsonses!. I had imagined there was a real hotbed of
assessment activity taking place out there that I just did not know about.
Apparently not



I'm about to teach General Botany for (mostly) freshmen students, and I
wonder if any of you would like to share techniques of assessment that you
have found particularly good. Taking cues from Angelo and Cross, in the past
I have done "one minute papers" at the end of class, and have also asked for
questions/comments from the students via email. Last year I did a pretest
consisting of 50 multiple choice questions (I told them I wanted to know
what they already knew, which was predictably not much; I gave them 5 points
for simply filling it out on the honor system (good success); I did not
return the pretest to them) and then I gave the same questions as a posttest
as part of the comprehensive final exam. The improvement was gratifying, but
N was small (18).

When I was a department chair at another institution, we tried a pretest
with am intro bio class of about 400, with a multiple choice exam of, as I
recall, 100 questions. There were some students who would not play the game
and left after they had literally only written their names on the scan sheet
because it was required for the course. Obviously a real flop. 

As a most time administrator and little time (now) classroom facilitator, I
feel and make felt the pressure by our acrediting agency to undertake
assessment and for the most part believe it to have value. But quite
honestly, I'm not sure that what I do to try to set an example ("Lead") is
the most effective. I also find myself now much more interested in my
students learning than my teaching.

Any comments or suggestions you have would be appreciated. I imagine you and
your universities/departments are being asked/required to do other than
typical exams for assessment, and know how many good ideas have pasted my
eyes since I signed on to plant-ed a couple of years ago. I will summarize
the comments and post them after a couple weeks time for all to see. Please
be sure the word "Assessment" is in the subject line.

From: "Scott T. Meissner" <smeissne at>

Our college is also going through "assessment shock"
and I have used the one minute papers as well.  What I also do is
have students go to the blackboard, mostly in laboratory, and 
practice drawing out the relationships and structures that we are
covering.  For instance, I give out various descriptive paragraphs
of flower structures and challange the students to draw a 
cross section and longitudinal section of the flower on the 
board.  This lets me know if they have learnt their flower parts,
and the terminology, and then I can give them one-on-one help with
any problems they are having.  
	The purpose, as I understand it, of assessment is for the
professor to do more than a stand up lecture and give a final.  More
in terms of actually interacting with the students where the professor
is dealing with the students on problems they are having.  It is not
meant to be collecting a set of paper to document an activity to a 
beaurocrat.  A question and answer session can be one means of 
assessment.  It tells you where your students are in comprehending the 
material, and you can use this information to modify your teaching.  
If your students have a concept down pat, why review it again.  But
if they still do not get heterospory you can go over it again.  The 
idea is to bring some sort of feedback to the students that addresses
their questions.  One minute papers are one way of doing this, but 
not the only one.  
	As long as you are in touch with your students and dealing
with their questions you are doing assessment.  The process is just
one of being aware of how you are keeping in touch, and trying a 
variety of means to build these links since different students 
may use different means for communicating. 

From: LERICKSO at CROP.UOGUELPH.CA (Larry Erickson)

    I, too, have started emphasizing "learning" rather than 
"teaching" in my pedagogical discussions, teaching dossiers etc. I 
have found the emphasis on teaaching a somewhat faculty-centred and 
top-down perspective, rather than a student-centred approach on what 
actually is learned. It also fits better with my role as a 
researcher, wherein I perceive myself as a learner, which helps to 
keep me in a student-like mode, as well. I've become a little tired 
of the constant emphasis on "teaching", and  believe many of my 
colleagues have become a little cynical of the motives for this, 
especially when those who are always emphasizing teaching are also 
critical of the recognition given to research and their research is 
distinctly miniscule.

From: Gary Hannan <bio_hannan at EMUVAX.EMICH.EDU>

We are in the process of evaluating a cognitive structure (or concept
mapping) approach to assessment.  Students are asked to complete a diagram
that represents relationships among topics covered in either individual
courses or for the core curriculum, depending on what we want to target.
We have found that it is possible to construct such diagrmas and administer
them in a pre and post strategy for individual courses.  Structures for
some courses show significant, although weak (r2=.2 to .4) correlation with
student grade (admittedly just one alternative way of assessing students
also).  We are still working on evaluating the utility of this approach on
a core curriculum basis.  If you check with educational psychologists you
can get lots of info about concept mapping.

From: ssinger at (Susan Singer)

Here's a sample of what I do the first day of class. (It might be
formatted more clearly on my web page for this  I
think it works because unless they tell me they don't understand this stuff
I say I will assume they do in my lectures.  Usually the majority are
baffled by mitosis and meiosis and say so without me giving them a problem
to solve.


In creating this course we have made some assumptions about basic
biological concepts you have
already mastered in high school. Please look over our list below and circle
the numbers in front of
the concepts with which you do not feel comfortable. If a large number of
you circle similar
concepts, we will adjust the course to take this into account. We have also
provided references in
your text where you can look for information on these topics. Please
realize that we are assuming
only a basic grasp of this material, not a detailed and complex
understanding. You have received
two copies of this list. One is for you to keep, the other is to be
returned to us at the end of our first
class meeting with circled concepts. We also would like to know what your
biology course
background is since this is the first time this course is being offered and
we have students with a
mix of prior courses. Thanks for your help. It will allow us to better
tailor the course to you.

One more request.... For a later portion of the course, would you please
let us know what your
blood type is, if you know? Circle your blood type below.

                           don't know
                                      rather not respond

                               Previous Courses

Circle the numbers in front of the courses you have taken:

1. High school biology. More than one year? How many?

2. AP biology in high school

3. An introductory biology course at a college or university other than

4. Biology 121 (Animals) at Carleton

5. Biology 122 (Plants) at Carleton

6. Biology 123 (Energetics and Genetics) at Carleton

7. High school chemistry

8. Other (please fill in) ___________________________________________

                      Basic Biological Concepts and Terms

Please circle concepts you are not familiar with. Remember, we are assuming
only a very basic
understanding of these concepts and terms.

1) Cell theory - Cells are the basic unit of organization in living things
and all cells come from
preexeisting cells. Page 61.

2) DNA is the genetic material and genes are made of DNA. Pages 241 (more
detail follows in the
chapter, but this material is covered in detail in Biology 123).

3) Alleles are different forms of the same gene. Page 217.

4) Different alleles can arise by mutation. Pages 224 and 268-269.

5) DNA serves as a template for the production of proteins with RNA used as
an intermediary step
in the process (DNA -> RNA -> protein). Pages 256-268 (details of
mechanisms are not assumed
and will be covered in Biology 123).

6) Basic chemistry/biochemistry familiarity. You have heard of carbon,
hydrogen, oxygen, amino
acids, proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids. We don't expect that you can
draw the chemical
structures, etc that are detailed in Chapters 1 and 2.

7) The difference between mitosis and meiosis. Mitosis results in constancy
while meiosis
(reductive division) enhances diversity. Pages 191 and 208-209 (details of
mechanism are not

8) Osmosis vs. Diffusion. Osmosis - movement of water across a selectively
permeable membrane.
Diffusion - net movement of any substance from an area of high
concentration to an area of low
concentration. Pages 100-105.

9) Passive diffusion vs. Active transport (movement of a substance across a
membrane against its
concentration gradient; requires energy in the form of ATP). Pages 100-105.

10) Homeostasis. The idea of a constant internal environmental parameters
(pH, temperature, etc.)
Pages 782-784. 11) General definition and idea of metabolism -
enzyme-driven chemical reactions
in an organism that either build up, break down, or otherwise change molecules.

James. W. Perry, Campus Dean
University of Wisconsin - Fox Valley
1478 Midway Road, P.O. Box 8002
Menasha, Wisconsin 54952-9002
Office: 414.832.2610
FAX: 414.832.2674
jperry at

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