Program Evaluation in the Department of Biological Sciences

Grant recipient: Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Department of Biological Sciences

Project team: Megan Barker and Joan Sharp, Department of Biological Sciences, and Birgit Schwarz, research assistant

Timeframe: July 2018 to November 2019

Funding: $6000

Courses addressed:

  • BISC 101 – General Biology
  • BISC 102 – General Biology
  • BISC 300 – Evolution
  • BISC 357 – Molecular Biology

Description: The Department of Biological Sciences developed a set of program-level learning outcomes several years ago. Laura Hilton, who began this work, started to try to identify upper division course content areas where students are not adequately prepared for the course work due to deficiencies in needed background. After completing a map of the lower division curriculum, because of other opportunities and time commitments, Laura was unable to continue this work. I am strongly interested in trying to continue her work, and build upon it for my Dewey Fellowship Project. First, the aim is to use a refined set of learning outcomes to design an instrument that will allow us to map our curriculum, and to identify those skills and knowledge that most students successfully attain in our program and those for which improvement is needed. Second, I would like to find out if our students develop the conceptual understanding and analytical skills that a panel of experts have determined to be essential knowledge for Bachelor of Science graduates in the life sciences. We have quite a broad and diverse offering of courses in our department, and it is of interest to know how well/whether we have been successful in helping learners develop essential skills. Finally, I would like to know where our students end up after graduation. We know that some will enter professional schools (e.g., medical/dental) or graduate schools, but where do the majority of our graduates find employment? In addition, which useful employment skills have they developed during their undergraduate years, and which skills do they believe were not adequately developed.

I also plan to do a brief survey of departments across campus to determine how many have developed program-level learning outcomes, and what additional work has been done to assess learning and map the curriculum to ensure alignment between desired outcomes and actual course offerings.

Questions addressed:

  • Do students in the biology department have opportunities to develop the skills and knowledge determined by the department to be essential to a biology graduate?
  • Do the students in the biology department develop the skills, knowledge and attitudes determined by the department to be essential to a biology graduate, and how are these assessed?
  • Do students in our department master the conceptual knowledge defined by Bio-MAPS developers as essential to a biology graduate?
  • Do students graduating from our programs feel adequately prepared for their work after graduation?
  • How many SFU departments have gone beyond developing learning outcomes at the program level, to map curriculum against the outcomes? Are they mapping learning as opposed to the intended curriculum (through syllabi)? Are the maps used to inform curriculum improvement?

Dissemination: My current plan is to write a report for our department and maybe provide short reports with relevant graphics to faculty who indicate interest in the survey results. It will likely be a part of our external review package, so many colleagues will read at least a summary of the report as it will likely be part of our self-study document. I also believe some of the results should be communicated to students, possibly on the department website via a degree “roadmap” pinpointing the intended learning outcomes or connecting the outcomes to employment skills and pointing to the courses needed to acquire these specific skills.