[Plant-education] Assessing botany courses for students and faculty

Perry, James jperry at uwc.edu
Tue Oct 25 21:46:40 EST 2005

Beverly, I think the link here will help you with your second question:
http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/salgains/instructor/. Look for Botany 130 at
the UW-Fox Valley or University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley. I have found
this an excellent way to do what you are after. Lots of folks around the
nation are using it for various courses. This is a true assessment tool,
as opposed to student evaluations of teaching.

I think what you are looking for with your first question is what we
used to think of as assessment and now is better called an exam or test
to distinguish it from assessment as no defined by accrediting
organizations. I believe I heard that the plant physiology society had
done something like this, or was it core knowledge that should be gained
in introductory botany courses?  Bob Wise at UW Oshkosh, can you help
out here?

As a quasi faculty member (my day job is to serve as the campus
executive officer and dean) I have felt free over the past two years to
experiment with lecture minimization. My 5 credit course has a "lecture"
section that meets twice per week for 75 minutes per session. In the
first meeting (Thursday), I do an overview of the topic using PowerPoint
(with very very few words on the slides, mostly images). Students get
Directed Reading Questions -- a really extensive list of questions based
upon the readings. In the Tuesday class students get a chance to ask
questions of me and after they are finished they take an individual
minitest and then a different group minitest. All of this is computer
mediated via our course management system (BlackBoard or D2L). (I teased
the students last year that if all worked according to plan I would
never have to attempt to decipher their handwriting because they had to
type in their answers, do a  grammar and spell check, and by golly, it

This was an incredible amount of work on my part. Students fail to see
the front end work that goes into the course or the grading effort, so
sometimes they find it odd that they don't have a person lecturing
constantly. (But I don't depend on student evaluations for anything
other than my ego, so I am free to experiment.) The assessment from both
years suggests that the learning gains (different from grades) are
better than for the traditional lecture method. The SALGAINS instrument
has been good at helping me learn that. And the comments from the
students were actually meaningful.

My spouse is also a faculty member, and she got tired of being the sage
on the stage too. She adopted the method with her environmental course
this year and is happy with the outcome.

If you would like to see the syllabus from my course, just ask. We do a
lot with the lab that is not as typical as what I was accustomed to in
my early life, including a semester long project that really gets most
students interested in "their" plants.

I'm at a campus that is not selective, and have an extremely broad range
of student abilities. I got the idea from a learning community
conference and a fellow at one of the smaller Indiana schools, so I
can't claim any originality. The method really puts the emphasis on
students instead of the instructor.


-----Original Message-----
From: plant-ed-bounces at oat.bio.indiana.edu
[mailto:plant-ed-bounces at oat.bio.indiana.edu] On Behalf Of Beverly Brown
Sent: Tuesday, October 25, 2005 3:54 PM
To: plant-ed at magpie.bio.indiana.edu
Subject: [Plant-education] Assessing botany courses for students and

Hi all,

I'm looking for some new assessment tools.  The first is to assess
student learning.  Anyone aware of a standardized test for botanical
content in an undergraduate semester overview course?

Second, I'm looking for assessment tools for teaching when the approach
is to teach to multiple learning styles (so not just lecture, but a
variety of mini-lectures, activities, discussion, small group work,

I'm finding students in botany 1) are generally not intrinsically
motivated by the material, 2) are used to lecture-based courses and
struggle with taking more responsibility for their learning, and 3)
therefore can't always see what they are learning despite some
reflective components.  So, I am trying to tease out all these factors.

All help welcome!

Beverly J. Brown
Assistant Professor
Biology Department
Nazareth College
4245 East Ave.
Rochester, NY 14618
585-389-2555, bbrown6 at naz.edu

Plant-ed mailing list
Plant-ed at net.bio.net

More information about the Plant-ed mailing list