Lessons Learned from FIPSE Projects II
Table of Contents
- 2. University of Tennessee at Knoxville: Assessment Resource Center
In the mid 1980's, institutions were struggling in isolation with state accountability mandates, accrediting agency requirements, and internal concerns with declining student performance. FIPSE funded these two projects to make available expertise and resources on assessment to national and international audiences, and to foster and publicize advances in the field.
PACAT is a consortium-based assessment program designed to bridge the gap between homegrown tests and nationally-normed examinations. It does this by linking multiple choice standardized tests to departmental curricula and making them faculty-owned. The area concentration tests (ACATs) were constructed as exit exams for graduating seniors, but also as a way to promote curricular reform within disciplinary departments. By the end of the three-year project, approximately 5,000 ACATs had been administered in 19 states and 54 departments.
The National Project was designed to assess and showcase 15 outstanding college programs across the nation that have incorporated computer word-processing in freshman composition courses. Although a number of studies have generated considerable excitement for computers as teaching aids, many composition teachers are still uncertain about how to use computers in the classroom. Based on research and student testing at these 15 sites, the project gathered data on student learning and instructional methodologies. It also published a monograph on computers and college writing, drawing upon experiences from the participating colleges.
The Seminars gather faculty and students to examine ways of teaching and learning at Harvard. Topics range from one-minute papers to the benefits of group study.
In 1985 Harvard Medical School introduced the New Pathway curriculum, featuring active, problem-based, student-directed learning in the pre-clinical phase of medical education. Realizing the need to persuade faculty of the value of this reform program, researchers in the Teaching Center undertook a carefully controlled assessment of the results of the new program in comparison with the more traditional one, looking at a wide range of outcomes and using many forms of assessment.
Does an interdisciplinary core curriculum make a difference in what and how well students learn, and how they live out their college years? A comparative assessment of Miami's disciplinary, distribution-based liberal arts program and the interdisciplinary approach of Miami's Western College yielded a detailed picture of students and the learning process, as well as further evidence of the complexity of assessment.
Devising assessment instruments for general education skills requires an especially close understanding and agreement among faculty on what constitutes evidence of those skills. As Fredonia faculty worked on the elaboration of their own measures of a liberal arts education, they found themselves using their liberal arts training to become experts in assessment.
Nationally normed examinations provide an unsatisfactory assessment of student learning in the major since they cannot be responsive to an institution's particular circumstances and conceptualizations of the curriculum. On the other hand, institutionally designed examinations provide no comparison with norms. Six State University of New York colleges, headquartered at the College of Plattsburgh, resolved this dilemma by joint development of comprehensive examinations in five majors.
Responding to the need for learning and mutual assistance among institutions undertaking assessment activities, SCHEA invited 42 South Carolina institutions to form a consortium to support assessment programs. A newsletter, "Beginner's Guide," and a lending library of resource materials assist participating institutions. The statewide assessment network has staged a variety of workshops and conferences.
- COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY TEACHING
Traditional approaches to improving minority performance in math were swept aside in this group-study approach. The PDP Honors Workshops at Berkeley expected students to excel through collaboration in small groups on difficult problem sets. The workshops produced startling results in which minority students at greatest risk of failure outperformed minority students at lowest risk of failure. PDP has received universal recognition in higher education and has been adapted on at least 100 campuses.
Based on the successes of Berkeley's Professional Development Program (PDP), the Medical Scholars Program designed student-led workshops for physiology, anatomy and biochemistry courses. The program can claim three strong outcomes: minority failure in pre-clinical courses declined; the school's pass rate on the National Boards improved; and pre-medical school achievement ceased to be a significant predictor of minority and non-minority students' actual exam scores.
This project makes it possible for even novice library users to access and integrate online catalogs and CD-ROM databases, and select the materials that best meet their research needs.
Poor academic preparation and lack of motivation on the part of students in introductory courses is as familiar a phenomenon as the faculty frustration that accompanies it. This project adopted the widely used Supplemental Instruction Program (SI), which stresses out-of-class group learning, and trained faculty members in "high risk" courses in supporting this effort.
- CURRICULUM AND TEACHING IN THE DISCIPLINES
A central purpose of science courses in a general education curriculum is to help students understand the nature of the scientific investigative process. Biology instructors at Clemson devised a computer simulation of fish breeding that allows students to formulate questions for investigation, design experiments, and gather data to reach conclusions. This teaching strategy gives students a better sense of how scientists work than the more usual "cookbook" experiments.
Clemson mathematics faculty have integrated the newly available high-level programmable calculators into basic math courses for science and engineering undergraduates. The result of bringing the calculators into 52 sections of six courses has been more active student learning and engagement, changed curricular emphasis, new faculty interest in pedagogical issues, and substantial national visibility.
Since in recent years the computer has conferred a markedly empirical character on the economics profession, if students are to think like economists they must be allowed to do economics. At Denison, with the guidance of faculty and the collaboration of their peers, students use the computer to test economic theory and develop policy, and thus begin to think and feel like economists.
To prepare students for further study of physics; to render them proficient and comfortable with computers and laboratory tools; and, above all, to make them want to learn more science--these are the purposes of introductory physics, according to the developers of this project. To achieve them, they designed a practical, hands-on approach that enables students to develop an intuitive grasp of scientific theory.
Since 1985, France-TV Magazine has brought political and cultural material taken directly from French television broadcasts to schools and colleges in the U.S. and Canada. Project personnel also developed instructional materials to accompany monthly programs, and responded to a variety of user requests for instructional support. The program is now being distributed to three different markets by PBS and to more than 100 countries on five continents.
This instructional approach, developed for the introductory physics course for engineers and physics majors at New Mexico State, makes students into more active learners. Dividing the course into conceptual blocks, instructors help students to understand concepts qualitatively, then learn the mathematical representations of these concepts, and finally apply them to particular case study problems in a "spiral" progression. Project staff have evaluated relative achievement of students at five institutions using this method versus more traditional ones.
Whereas seasoned musicians approach a composition as a coherent whole, traditional music theory is taught in a fragmented fashion, note by note and chord by chord. This project, by creating a multi-media, real-time instructional system, enables students to integrate the visual, aural, kinesthetic, affective and chronological components of musical comprehension.
Is it possible to create a flexible computer environment that permits introductory students to design, build, and test realistic simulations in biology? The Biology Laboratory Kit enables them to construct a variety of cardiovascular systems while conveying a sense of the design and behavior of complex systems. A software-based Intelligent Tutor provides a curriculum for the students' biological explorations and explains or critiques the systems' behavior.
Research indicates that one of the major factors in being able to solve complex problems is hours of practice--thousands of hours of practice--and appropriate feedback. Yet students in introductory science classes often number in the hundreds, and teaching assistants typically teach three laboratory sessions per semester. Chem-Tutor, an intelligent computer-assisted instructional system, enables students to get the amount of practice and feedback to improve their ability to solve complex chemistry problems.
- GENERAL EDUCATION
Responding to a national focus on integrated general education curricula and the reading of classic texts, the University designed an ordered program of 17 courses linked by the theme of "virtue, civility and reason." Systematic communication among instructors allows for coordination of syllabi and reference to works studied previously or concurrently.
Most students come to college deficient in the ability to ask questions of a text and to use facts to support a hypothesis. To address this problem in a large state university, SUNY at Buffalo developed the "Methods of Inquiry" course, designed to help students with critical analysis of texts in different disciplines, hypothesis formulation, and organization of course information and course tasks.
- TEACHER EDUCATION
Using a technique first developed to determine the aptitudes of potential spies for the Allies in World War II, this project identified the basic traits and skills of competent teachers, and designed simulations to enable prospective teachers to demonstrate these skills.
- 27. Northern Virginia Community College: Childcare Certification for Teen Single Mothers
To combat the alarming incidence of early maternity among teenagers, the College aligned itself with the community of Alexandria, Virginia and its public schools in a childcare certification program for poor single mothers. Forty of the 55 mothers who enrolled over the three-year grant period are now employed and meet Virginia requirements for working as instructional aides in childcare settings. The other 15 are currently enrolled in the College's Associate Degree Program. None of the students went on public assistance and none had subsequent pregnancies.
Pre-professional programs at liberal arts colleges, and especially teacher education programs, are frequently viewed as marginal to the mission of the institution. The Educational Studies Program at Union was deliberately structured to become integrated with the liberal arts curriculum and attract faculty commitment and support.
- 27. Northern Virginia Community College: Childcare Certification for Teen Single Mothers
Concern that increases in the scope and complexity of modern medicine might overwhelm patient decision-making has led to the widespread introduction of Hospital Ethics Committees (HECs). This project developed, piloted, and evaluated a week-long ethics and law curriculum for HEC members.
Weak grasp of or lack of concern for professional ethics among many college graduates has produced a call for instruction in this subject. This project devised strategies for preparing faculty to introduce cases in ethics into courses in a full range of professional programs in the University. Using practicing professionals as consultants yielded especially good results.
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