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We Teach … But are they Learning?. Assessing Student Learning in D.L. Lab Science Courses Peter Jeschofnig, Ph.D. Colorado Mountain College 12 th Sloan-C International Conference Nov 9, 2006. Atlantic Monthly : Nov 2005 . "What Does College Teach?

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we teach but are they learning

We Teach … But are they Learning?

Assessing Student Learning in D.L. Lab Science Courses

Peter Jeschofnig, Ph.D. Colorado Mountain College

12th Sloan-C International Conference Nov 9, 2006

Atlantic Monthly: Nov 2005


"What Does College Teach?

It's time to put an end to 'faith-based' acceptance of higher education's quality“

Richard Hersh,

former president of Hobart & William Smith Colleges

and Trinity College

Co-director of the "Collegiate Learning Assessment"

Hersh & Merrow – 2005

Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk

institutional level assessment
Institutional Level Assessment

All institutions have some form of assessment, often linked to accreditation

Of 1,393 public and private institutions surveyed in 1999, 82% listed “Excellence in Undergraduate Education” as part of mission statement.

However: Direct measures of student learning remain rare!

secretary of education s commission on the future of higher education
Secretary of Education’s Commission on The Future of Higher Education

Chairman Charles Miller, believes that colleges must better measure the skills and knowledge they impart to students, and openly share that information with the public.

“We need to assure that the American public understand through access to sufficient information, particularly in the area of student learning, what they are getting for their investment in a college education.”

"No College Left Behind?"

Inside Higher Ed,

February 15, 2006

secretary of education s commission on the future of higher education1
Secretary of Education’s Commission on The Future of Higher Education

Feb. 3, 2006 meeting in San Diego:

Higher education institutions must be more “transparent” in collecting and giving the public useful information about their activities and their performance.

Topics about which colleges should provide more and better information, the various panels suggested, are on their costs and prices, how their graduates fare in the employment market, and their success in imparting knowledge and, more importantly, skills like critical thinking, to their students.

national forum on college level learning nfcll
National Forum on College-Level Learning (NFCLL)

"I'm disappointed that NASULGC (National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges) seems to be interested in describing ‘the skills and knowledge that students bring to college’ but evidently not the ones they leave with.


Margaret (Peg) Miller

2006 Director of NFCLL

threat of mandated assessment
Threat of Mandated Assessment

Government mandated assessments have many negative ramifications that should be avoided.

However, that should not deter academic professionals from designing valid and reliable assessment of learning.

A pro-active academic approach to assessment is surely better than a government mandated one!

assessment approaches
Assessment Approaches
  • Actuarial Data and Expert Ratings:Graduation rates; research funding; student-teacher ratios, ACT & SAT scores; admissions selectivity
  • Student Ratings:Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) Students rate educational experience on quantity and quality of faculty contact; homework, assignments, etc.
  • Direct Assessment:Via grades & grade point averages
    • Nearly useless as learning indicators
      • Grade Inflation
      • Tell nothing about knowledge gained, retained, or if knowledge can be applied to new situations
      • Reflect lower level objectives such as facts and definitions rather than higher objectives & critical thinking skills
a learning college approach
A Learning College Approach

“The Learning College and its learning facilitators succeed only when improved and expanded learning can be documented for its learners.”

O’Banion, 1997

The Primary Questions For

Every Learning College Action:

  • Does this action improve

or expand learning?

  • How do we know?
Assessment ...

... is the systematic, on-going, iterative process of monitoring learning in order to determine what we are doing well and what we must improve.

we want and need to know
We Want and Need to Know…

… and we want students, employers, peers, policy makers, and the public to know …

how well students are able to use the complex knowledge and abilities

articulated as important to their learning.

basic assessment types
Basic Assessment Types
  • Formative Assessment:

Ongoing assessment used to modify instruction and improve learning

  • Summative Assessment:

End of class or program assessment to verify that learning objectives have been met. This is compared to other classes and institutions to gage the effectiveness of courses and instructional programs.

assessment is especially effective when it
Assessment is Especially Effective When It ...
  • is student centered
  • is congruent with instructional objectives
  • is relevant
  • is comprehensive
  • is clear in purpose, directions, and expectations
  • is objective and fair
  • simulates "end" behavior/product/performance
  • incites active responses
  • shows progress/development over time
assessment challenges
Assessment Challenges
  • Disagreements on what should be taught
  • Well-conceived programs take time, energy, and money
  • Avoiding the problems experienced in “No child left behind” assessment
  • Threat to academic freedom?
  • Classes looking too much alike?
distance learning is here to stay
Distance Learning is Here to Stay!

Online enrollments continue to grow at rates faster than for the overall student body…

Schools expect the rate of growth to further increase and believe that online learning is critical to their long term strategy…

Three quarters of academic leaders at public colleges and universities believe that online learning qualityis equal to or superior to face-to-face instruction. And they expect online offerings to continue to get better.

The Sloan Consortium, Nov. 2004

Entering the Mainstream

The Quality and Extent of Online Education

in the United States, 2003 and 2004

specific assessment challenges for distance education
Specific Assessment Challenges for Distance Education

Using Nationally Normed Exams:

  • Exam content must remain confidential
  • Require proctored exams
  • Cost to institution
  • Inconvenience to student

Institution Designed Exams:

  • Validity
  • Reliability
what about lab sciences
What About Lab Sciences?

If we are to avoid seeing a continuing decline in science literacy in America,

lab sciences MUST be fully included in the increasing mix of online course offerings.

However, there are still many instructors and institutions that do not believe lab sciences can effectively be taught at a distance. Valid and reliable assessment data is required to dispel this misconception.

assessing online science
Assessing Online Science

There is ample anecdotal evidence of student learning and satisfaction in distance science courses that use home-based lab kits to fulfill laboratory requirements.

However, there has been little quantitative data to support this positive conclusion.

objective of this study
Objective of this Study

To quantitatively assess and compare the performance of my chemistry students

In a face-to-face (F2F) chemistry course

with an on-campus laboratory


In an online chemistry (DL) course

with a home-based laboratory kit

process of assessing outcomes
Process of Assessing Outcomes

Administer and Compare Results for Campus-Based CHE-111 Students and Online CHE-111 Students:

1. American Chemical Society Standardized Exam

Pre-test at the beginning of the semester and

Post-test at the end of the course

2. Traditional homework, quiz, and exam grades

3. Laboratory reports graded via a specific rubric

american chemical society acs general chemistry i exam
American Chemical Society (ACS) General Chemistry I Exam

Scores based on 3007 students in 20 colleges and universities, including:

University of Alabama Albuquerque Technical College

Mercer University Kennesaw State University

Jamestown CC Florida Southern University

Miami University Monroe CC;

University Pittsburgh University of N.Carolina

lab report grading rubric
Lab Report Grading Rubric

Title Page - 5 points

Succinct and descriptive title and experiment number, author’s name, partners’ names, course name and number; date of experiment, date of lab report.

Abstract – 10 points

A brief one to two paragraph statement of the purpose of the experiment and the results (i.e. relative yield, identification of unknown, etc). 10 points

Purpose/Hypothesis - 10 points

A detailed statement about the experiment’s purpose and hypothesis (your predictions). Describe what you think the likely outcome of the experiment will be; what scientific principle or law will be tested; what scientific relationship will be shown. Hypothesis should include any relationship between variables and should mention the independent vs. dependent variable.

Procedure – 10 points:

If you followed a detailed procedure from the lab manual, a very short procedure summary will be enough. If you used a procedure not detailed in the lab report, you need to write the procedure in enough detail, using numbered steps, so that someone should be able to repeat your procedure.

This section should include any alterations or errors you made to your operating methodology. Be thorough and specific! Another chemist should be able to read your procedure and reproduce your experiment with precision. This section should not contain any results/data from the exercise. 10 points

Data/Observations - 25 points

A detailed presentation of all hard data gathered during the experiment, as well as an organized presentation of all your observations during the lab. Describe not only what you see, but what it signifies in chemical terms. What is really happening? Also, answer any questions the lab poses here.

Tables should be used whenever possible. Graphs need to be complete with titles, axes must be labeled; the independent variable should be on the x-axis, the dependent variable on the y-axis. Any calculations should be in this section as well. They should be presented clearly and explained. The source of all numbers used in calculations should be included.

Results/Analysis - 20points

A comprehensive, thoughtful discussion of what your data means and how it proved or disproved your hypothesis, including the relationship of the variables as presented by the data. Explain any trends in the data that will be used. You should present the evidence that will support your conclusions. Error analysis, including percent error, should be included here. Are the results consistent within the limitations of equipment and random error. All questions should be answered here.

Conclusion -20 points

A detailed discussion of how the lab results compare with your predictions, and what the results mean in a practical, real world sense. How can your discoveries be applied? Have you verified your hypothesis? Did you demonstrate the scientific principle of this experiment adequately?


Laboratory Report Grading Rubric

Title of Report:

Authors’ names:

Grading Rubric Point Allocation for Lab Reports

summary of findings
Summary of Findings
  • DL and F2F exam scores were basically equivalent
  • DL, F2F, and national ACS exam scores were basically equivalent
  • DL lab grades averaged 5% and course grades 1% higher than F2F
  • Institution exams were as effective as ACS exams for assessment


Student learning in DL science courses with home based lab kits is at least equivalent to and usually a little better than in face-to-face courses with a campus based lab.

Valid assessment can be achieved via institution exams.

summary of presentation
Summary of Presentation
  • Assessment is a Major and Growing Concern of Government, Educators, and Institutions
  • Assessment, especially DL assessment, presents challenges which must be met
  • DL Science Lab Courses Require Valid Assessment Methods to be Included in Online Course Offerings
  • DL and F2F Science Lab Course Learning Can Be Reliably Assessed and Compared
  • DL Science Lab Course Learning is Equivalent To or Better Than That in F2F Courses.
future plans
Future Plans
  • Design secure online end-of-course assessment tools
  • Develop lab skills and safety exam
  • Correlate ACS scores with ACT/SAT math scores

Feedback and Suggestions are Welcome!


abstract of presentation
Abstract of Presentation
  • This Colorado Mountain College Chemistry Professor reviews current complaints about college assessment and discusses the importance of and means of achieving valid and reliable assessment tools. He utilized standardized pre and post semester exams, traditional testing, and a lab report grading rubric to quantitatively assess and compare the learning of students in both his face-to-face and DL online CHE-111 courses. His findings reflect that student learning in his DL online Chemistry course with home based lab kits is at least equivalent to and actually a little better than student learning in his face-to-face Chemistry course with a traditional campus based lab.