Assessment report for:
BL A 415 (Nerve cell mechanisms in behavior)
BL A 615 (Neural bases of behavior)
[prepared January 2003].
A total of 14 undergraduates completed BL A415 Fall 2002 (1 masters, 2
5th year undergraduates, 11 seniors). In addition, 4 graduate students (2
in biology and 2 in psychology) completed the graduate section of the same
course, BL A615 (Neural bases of behavior). For the purposes of evaluating
this undergraduate course, it seemed appropriate to pool the test scores
for these 18 students.11 students were in biology, 3 were in psychology
(note the relevance of this course to physiological psychology), 1 was in
biomedical engineering, 1 was in computer science, and 1 was a chemistry
major (note the relevance of this course as a pre-med elective); (1 was
For the midterm, based on 100, the high was 80, the mean was 49, and the
low was 15.5
For the final, based on 100, the high was 85, the mean was 55, and the low
In 2000, the corresponding numbers were:
Midterm: 85, 60, and 23
Final: 91, 63, and 23
Although the means and ranges are comparable, the overall performance in
2002 seems worse. This could be real, it could be based on harder exams,
or worse students, and the class size is too small to determine if any differences
are statistically significant. If the lower means are real, the most likely
explanation was a striking poor lecture attendance, typically 60%. The grim
reality is that pupils at an average of senior level in relevant majors
do poorly and do not take advantage of lecture.
On the other side of the coin, the performance of poor students is a metric
to exhault the performance of the top students. The top scores (80% and
85% on midterm and final respectively) are outstanding considering how clearly
challenging the informational content of the course was. It is clear that
the assessment more a course assessment (and an assessment of it's material)
than it is of the top-notch students.
In new documents provided 12/11/02 by a newly-constituted biology department
assessment committee, the end point in our course assessments is to evaluate
how "assessment information will be used to improve" the course.
I was at a real disadvantage for quality teaching both semesters in 2002.
Each semester, I had two courses. One course each semester was high enrollment.
Three of the four offerings involved substantial revisions of lecture and
web materials, and this burden was so all-consuming that I cam in to 415
- 615 lectures virtually brain dead. Although my teaching load is anticipated
to remain high, it is likely that next time 415- 615 is offered, I will
not have so much revision to do simultaneously. I hope to be able to better
refresh my familiarity with the material and to deliver livelier lectures.
That, I hope, will encourage better attenadnce and hence performance.
At the present time, the course (exams included) can be found at:
Below, I reproduce the objectives:
For students contemplating or beginning graduate study in neuroscience,
this course should orient them. For students going to medical school, this
course should offer them the opportunity to take better advantage of several
courses in their academic years. For graduate students already engaged in
neuroscience research, as well as graduate and undergraduate students in
other areas, this course should present a comprehensive survey of the entire
field of neuroscience.
Below, I reproduce the assessment plan:
Outcomes Assessment Plan for Neurobiology
(BL A415 Nerve Cell Mechanisms in Behavior and BL A615 Neural Bases of Behavior)
Dr. William Stark
Prepared October, 2002
This is an elective course for upperclassmen (and a few graduate students),
about half biology students, the rest from other departments.
Students are expected to learn a considerable amount of information in the
field of neuroscience provided by:
(a) A modern and pedagogically advanced text.
(b) A web page providing lecture outlines and past examinations (http://starklab.slu.edu/neuro/SyllabusNeuro98.htm).
(c) Lectures utilizing the web outline and informational diagrams.
The scope of this information is intended to prepare students with the neuroscience
background that would be essential for
(a) Graduate studies in neuroscience or a related field.
(b) The relevant medical school courses.
Midterm and final exams are administered, graded, and returned to the students
as part of their learning experiences. Special features of the exams are
(a) All questions are short answer.
(b) They are asked to provide such specific answers to questions that there
is little room for subjectivity in the grading.
(c) In many instances, these questions are specifically designed to apply
and integrate the information.
For the sake of record keeping, exams are copied before they are returned
to the students.
With the semester's course material under their belts, students registered
for the graduate section (615) deliver a lecture at the end of the semester
in a topic of interest to them that is evaluated on the basis of content
To compare background of graduating biology majors with national norms,
the policy SLU's Biology Department adopted April, 1998, built around having
majors take the Graduate Record Exam, might have been an excellent strategy.
In the subsequent two and a half years, the SLU administration did not obtain
data from that adopted policy. Instead, in September 21, 2000, "each
faculty member" was charged to "develop an outcome assessment
tool." I could have watered down my expectations to a level where all
students would perform marvelously. However, the simple truths are (1) that
many biology courses, this one included, strive to present students with
a substantial amount of information; and (2) that the best assessment centers
around traditional tests. This stated, separate assessments for each course
that each faculty member offers is, and has always been, absolutely essential
to grade students. However, to serve that function, the test must be challenging
enough to distinguish different performance levels. The difficulty of the
exams can be verified by the lowest scores. Applied to determining whether
the material was substantial and could be mastered, only the performance
of the best students on the test can be a meaningful way to assess outcome.
Also, this overall strategy is too chaotic to achieve what was stated above,
"to quantify the biology background of graduating majors in a way that
could be compared to national norms."
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This page was last updated 1/16/03