BIOL 415 Nerve Cell Mechanisms in Behavior
BIOL 615 Neural Bases of Behavior
Prof. Stark
Spring, 2012 Assessment Report

 
Form items in plain text; Student comments, statements, future plans in italics
 
My interpretation of the history of assessment
"Assessment" in Missouri spread after the mid 1980's "Value Added" program of Northeast Missouri State. It was originally intended "to reliably evaluate the quality of educational training." In April, 1998, SLU's  Biology Department adopted a policy of having graduating majors take the Graduate Record Exam, interpreting "assessment" as "program assessment." On September 21, 2000, "each faculty member" was charged to "develop an outcome assessment tool." At this time, the interpretation was one of "student outcomes assessment." In December 2002, "course assessment" replaced "student outcomes assessment;" faculty were directed to collect information used to change or improve the course in keeping with SLU's policy ("Assessment results are utilized to improve courses and curriculum"). There is a link to the assessment reports I have prepared since assessment was mandated at SLU:
http://starklab.slu.edu/CV/Assessment.htm
 
Here are the stated objectives of the course:
 
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.
 
"The course fulfilled these objectives."
1. strongly agree   2. agree   3. disagree  4. strongly disagree
 
Average = 1.5
 
Comments:
 
I think this course will do me very well in medical school, especially in neurology courses.
 
I will be going to medical school next year, and this course helped me to tackle a more challenging course with very specific details in an area that I knew little about before. 
 
A great comprehensive overview of neurophysiology; lots of detail, but not too much to be overwhelming
 
I think that the wide range of material this course covers, as well as the integration of the material, is preparing me well for the courses I will take in medical school and the vast amount of information I will need to learn.
 
The topics selected thoroughly represented the major/important areas of
neuroscience.
 
I feel as though the course hit on interesting topics that were relevant to students planning to go on to medical school as well as though interested in furthering their study of the nervous system and how the body operates. 
 
Course does meet objectives well.
 
I wish the lectures would be more organized, they seem to jump around a lot and not flow, I think that would give me a better feel for the subject of neuroscience.
 
I believe there are many ways this course can be improved to make the material more accessible and understandable and the course more coherent and cohesive.

 
 
 "These objectives were reasonable."
 
1. strongly agree  2. agree   3. disagree  4. strongly disagree
 
Average = 1.2
 
Comments:
 
while tests are challenging, the curve makes them very fair and reasonable, and the resources provided allow all students to potentially do well in the class
 
The expectations were set high, but the curves on the tests made the objectives reasonable.  Setting the bar high makes students want to work harder.
 
This course is challenging, yet it serves as a great foundation for future courses.
 
Although there were a lot of topics to cover, we got through them in a reasonable
time and covered them with an appropriate depth (not too general, not overly complex).
 
The course covers a variety of topics, all relevant and useful for my goal in attending medical school.
 
There is nothing unreasonable about them, they will help a lot.
 
Yes there are not overwhelming.

 
 
"The selection of topics for emphasis was reasonable."
 
1. strongly agree   2. agree  3. disagree  4. strongly disagree
 
Average = 1.5
 
Comments:
 
I really enjoyed the examples of disease as well as personal antidotes added to the technical information of the course. These additions made the material and lecture more interesting and personable. 
 
Although this course covers a lot of material, I truly believe I learn best when I am challenged to learn a large amount of information and integrate it with new information presented throughout the course.
 
Many different topics were covered that pertained to neuroscience, none too in depth.  Great for an intro neuroscience course
 
 The topics selected thoroughly represented the major/important areas of
neuroscience.
 
 I like all the topics.
 
There are a few things that are very specific, but otherwise I think the topics are great.
 
again it would be helpful if there was more flow between topics (and even between slides)
 
The "relevant research" presented doesn't always seem to be
completely relevant or worthwhile in presenting.
 

 
 
"The level of the textbook was appropriate."
 
1. strongly agree   2. agree   3. disagree  4. strongly disagree
 
Average = 1.9
 
Comments:
 
I really liked the textbook.  Easy to follow, yet detailed
 
I enjoyed reading the textbook and found it to be very approachable and easy to read.
 
Very well put together text.
 
Not too much textbook and not too little, the way it should be.
 
Lectures from class supplemented the textbook well; although, I took away more
from lectures than I did from the textbook.
 
 Textbook was aligned with the course.
 
Some things in the textbook went into much greater detail than we did in the course but this is the case with most textbooks. The book provided good background information and aided my learning process in combination with lecture.
 
The textbook went into greater detail on many subjects that were discussed in class
and seemed to gloss over if mention at all the points of emphasis from lecture. The time it took
to read the text could be better spent going over the notes and outline.
 
the textbook was not difficult to read, but it was far more detailed than the class, and the class did not follow the order of the textbook--one lecture could have information from 5 different chapters.  a textbook following the course closer would be nice. it was VERY helpful that you included figure and page numbers in your outline

 
"Outlines, pdf's, and PodCasts on the web were important resources."
 
Your number:
 
1. strongly agree   2. agree  3. disagree  4. strongly disagree
 
Average = 1.2
 
I've used all of those resources consistently.
 
I used all 3 in preparation for every test.  Having the podcasts is extremely helpful for when you miss an important comment made in lecture.
 
All three of these sources aided my studying.  I especially appreciated having access to the outlines, which at times, contained more information or more detail than the PDF's.
 
Having the pdf's was a huge help as they allowed me to follow along better during
the lectures as well as serve as my main focus when studying. Also, the PodCasts allowed me to
refer back to the lectures whenever I needed information repeated.
 
Great resources for review and learning
 
Without the PDFs and the Podcasts the course would be extremely difficult to study for.
 
 I used the website extensively. The podcasts were helpful when I didnt get all the information in class.
 
again, it would be helpful if slides were more cohesive, they do not flow at all so it is hard to follow
 
Without reading the outlines it is often times very difficult to understand what
the pdf's are saying, as the "notes from the outlines" section are often choppy and incomplete
thoughts. Podcasts are helpful if the student is to miss class for some reason.
 
It would be impossible to pass this class without them. The
outlines and slides are extremely important and the previous tests are
absolutely key to success because test questions are relatively
difficult to determine just by reading the notes. The outlines/slides
could be cleaned up a bit because they are not formatted in any way.
 
The outlines were a little confusing to follow alone but with the addition of notes from class they worked well. The podcasts were extremely helpful in aiding my studying, allowing me to re-listen to parts of lecture I was unclear on or material I struggled with as test time approached. 
 
From my perspective, is is the primary area needing improvement. The PDFs and outlines are incoherent and extremely difficult to understand, even with the companion podcast. The information is often completely unintelligible due to excessive brevity or poor organization (misplaced slides, random line breaks, random punctuation). They sometimes contain different information, they are not even close to standalone material and require constant reference to the text or to outside sources before they are even intelligible, making them effectively worthless. They need to be completely rewritten from the perspective of a student looking at the material for the first time, with careful attention paid to formatting and punctuation (because errors can lead to a great deal of confusion) as well as completeness and coherence of information (slides are often extremely vague to the point of being useless - one slide literally said "science"). Otherwise, students are referring almost exclusively to a combination of the textbook and Wikipedia. If the PDFs and outlines were updated as I have described, it would make this class better by tenfold and help achieve all of the course objectives.

 
 "Having previous year's applicable test questions on each outline was a useful study aid."
 
1. strongly agree  2. agree  3. disagree  4. strongly disagree
 
Average = 1.1
 
Comments:
 
very very very very beneficial
 
Having these questions available helped me test my understanding of each lecture right after I covered a topic.  Used these questions for every outline.
 
The old exams gave insight into what topics would be emphasized on the exams
 
Questions were very helpful in studying for exams! 
 
A great way to test whether or not I understood the material.  Also, a way to judge how much more studying I needed to do, and it was nice to know how you (the professor) wrote questions.
 
Previous test questions were extremely useful and helped me focus my studying.  They helped me think of various ways in which the information presented in class could be applied to new situations and helped me form answers to similar questions and think of new questions that could be asked.  I was nervous at the beginning of the semester about the tests being short answer rather than multiple choice tests, but these questions gave me a better idea of what to expect.
 
 It was a study guide for test.
 
They are a good test of one's knowledge of the subject matter!
 
Huge help, absolutely critical for understanding what you (the professor) expect from us in terms of our understanding of material.
 
Comments: Old test questions helped me more than anything else. They allowed me to gauge
how in-depth my studying needed to be as well as help me quiz myself after covering each
lecture.

 
 
 "It was useful, beyond the text, to have recent literature, landmark literature (and Nobel links), and personal reflections."
 
1. strongly agree  2. agree  3. disagree 4. strongly disagree
 
Average = 2.3
 
Delete? Keep? Add more?
 
add more
 
Keep
 
Keep them
 
I liked literature relevant to the present.  It was great learning about the new findings, especially with medical school right around the corner.
 
 The recent literature supplemented the rest of the lecture material
well. I would keep about the same amount or a little less. Adding more would be too much
material to cover in the time given.
 
If to keep them I would maybe spend a little more time on each of the papers and only use a few as resources. I felt as though I was unclear on a lot of the articles we talked about because we only discussed them briefly. 
 
I think you should keep the current information, rather than adding more.  This information is valuable and interesting and helps provide context for the material covered in lecture, but at times it can be overwhelming to keep up with all of the recent literature, especially in the context of preparing for tests.
 
 While all interesting, it would be more beneficial to delete some and focus more on certain ones.
 
While the stories were sometimes entertaining, they often seemed distracting to the
flow of the lecture
 
I feel like there is too much of this and there needs to be a little more emphasis on theory. Maybe delete a few or keep the same amount, but this is just my opinion
 
Fewer Nobel links
 
delete.  sort of interesting but they disrupted the flow of lecture i thought 
 
I would delete many of these. Albeit they are interesting, they are
not completely necessary to the course. I would keep them available
for students to learn about, but maybe not spend so much class time on
them.
 
It is interesting information, but I did not find it beneficial in the application to the material in lecture and from the textbook. I would keep a few, but perhaps reduce it. 
 
 Maybe less Nobel Prize winners because I tried to remember more of what they did and less about the concepts they presented.
 
Although they are sometimes helpful, I would suggest reducing these additional components slightly for future courses.
 
I found these to be a tremendous distraction and annoyance, taking up many minutes of class time for tangents/irrelevant material. It is already very difficult to me to focus in class, but when instruction turns into story time I get very frustrated and even more distracted. This is the biggest contributor to my poor attendance this semester.

 
 
Make a statement about the relevance of SLU's 5 dimensions to this course and its assessment
 
This course highlights the first two dimensions by promoting knowledge and intellectual inquiry on neuroscience. 
 
very relevant for scholarship, knowledge, and intellectual inquiry 
 
Nerve Cell Mechanisms challenged me to learn more about the wonderful field of Neuroscience.  I learned a great deal about scientific discoveries and I am glad I took this class because of its difficulty. 
 
Scholarship and Knowledge.  This course has by far taught me more about the human body than any other of my biology or psychology courses.  While one of my more challenging classes I have taken at SLU, every lecture is interesting and amazes me how complex the human body is.
 
 The level of knowledge in this course is the challenged needed for students like me to grow in understanding to become a better leader in my community.  
 
This course encouraged scholarship, intellectual inquiry and communication.  This course did an excellent job impressing students with the relevance of research to the field. 
 
SLU's 5 dimensions were reflected in the neuro course because it allowed for the further advancement of knowledge while also encouraging intellectual inquiry through investigating current research and fostering an open environment for questions and comments about material.
 
 I believe that the course covered 1. and 2. very well.  I learned a lot in this course!
 
This course really only covered the first two dimensions of SLU's 5 dimensions, I believe.  The hard work needed to learn and know the material and how interesting the topics were made it more enjoyable to inquire about the course's topics.  Also, the amount of scientific study and experiments that we learned about shows the great amount of scientific communication out there.
 
This course touched on all 5 of SLU's dimensions, but especially numbers 1, 2, and 3.  It is difficult in a science lecture course to integrate leadership, service, and spirituality, but I think we experienced these dimensions, as well as number 3, when we worked in groups for the brain dissection.
 
Dimensions 1 and 2 are certainly relevant. 3 does not really apply (nor does it need to).
However, 4 could apply as one uses the knowledge gained from this course to serve/help others
as a health care professional or a teacher. 5 might apply in some situations.

 
1. Scholarship and Knowledge
 
This is obvious - anyone who applies him/herself in this class will gain a great deal of insight into neurobiology and neuroanatomy. The material is interesting and there is a great deal of information does not simply repeat old psychology or biology courses (as tends to be the case all too often).
 
the class challenges and promotes the
increase of knowledge
 
From this course my knowledge of the field of neuroscience has
greatly improved.

 
 2. Intellectual Inquiry and Communication

Intellectual inquiry is definitely a pillar of this course - the material is complex and requires further investigation beyond the text for a fuller understanding.
 
showing the relevant
research (especially by past students) to the topics studied may
inspire students to get involved
 
This course required that the student question
topics presented at a higher level. Some students gave presentations, which would build on the
communication aspect I suppose.

 
3. Community Building

Study groups, I guess?
 
the dissection promoted meeting peers, the
classroom was pretty solitary otherwise.
 
I am not aware of any skills I gained from this course in regards to
community building.

 
4. Leadership and Service

None - this is a neuroanatomy course; I fail to see how this is relevant.
 
I am not aware of any skills I gained from this course in regards to
leadership and service.

 
5. Spirituality and Values
 
None - this is a neuroanatomy course; I fail to see how this is relevant.
 
I am not aware of any skills I gained from this course in regards to
community building.

 
 
What changes would you propose for next year?
 
The course was very insightful, I can't think of anything to change.
 
None that I can think at the moment.
 
None.
 
At this time, I cannot think of any changes I would make. The class has run smoothly and has
been very informative.
 
Spending more time discussing current research articles to further enhance the important concepts of neuroscience in today's scientific community.
 
Fewer Nobel prize descriptions, continue to share relevant recent research with students.
 
Maybe integrate some higher point questions that ask about an entire process rather than short
answer questions about a single fact. When studying for exams I felt I was trying to memorize
random facts rather than learning the overall process. Also, some of the questions seemed a
little ambiguous, so some more specificity as to what is exactly being asked would be nice. An
example is "tell me something about"
 
I think the course is great! Not much I'd change except maybe cut down the material a little bit!
 
If anything, it would be nice to have 4 tests instead of 3.  Also, having tests on Tuesday or not including Tuesday lectures for Thursday tests (it can be bought to learn a new lecture as well as review all the information so close to the test date).
 
making the slides/the class more cohesive and structured instead of jumping randomly around between topics.  having the material from the last day of class before a test NOT be on the test--this only gives us a day to study that information Thanks for teaching this course!!!!
 
It might be helpful for students to have access to the actual powerpoints, rather than the PDFs, so that they can take notes directly on the slides via their computers.
 
perhaps using Tegrity classes so that the recording of the professor's voice was in time with the powerpoint slides to make it easier to follow along when it comes time to study the notes
 
 Maybe more than just short answer on the tests.  This would make preparing a little easier but not take away from the course content.
 
  it would be helpful if the pdf's were better organized. Occasionally, they can be confusing or difficult to follow. But they are still a very valuable study resource
 
More textbook material. I felt like I paid attention in class, listened to the PodCasts, yet still had a bit of trouble trying to keep up with the material in the class.
 
 I would attempt to add structure to the outlines/slides and maybe
focus on some systems more closely. Problematically, the nature of
this course lends it to incredibly large amounts of material.

INFORMATION

There were 3 tests of 65 points, short answer:
Test 1, average = 45.6, SD=12.4 , High=62 low=13.5
Test 2, average = 46.3, SD=11.2 , High=60.5 low=24
Test3, average = 48.4, SD=9.8, High=61 low=14
High scores indicate that the material could be learned. Low scores indicate that the material was challenging.

The grading curve was 3.43 (A-/B+) , consistent with last year AND VERY GENEROUS, since it would have been a C- curve based on the percentages used in Biology.

REPORT ON IMPROVEMENTS BASED ON LAST YEAR'S ASSESSMENT

Providing pdf's of PowerPoints was greeted with enthusiasm

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

In general, the course was met with approval. Thus, in terms of changes, only fine tuning is suggested. I was surprised at the one "poison pen" comment about the resourses provided, thousands of pages. These resources were greeted with overall approval, and the annual maintenanance I put into them takes me far more time than any one student devotes to the entire course.

I note variability on responses to the "recent literature, landmark literature (and Nobel links), and personal reflections" question. Possibly I can achieve a compromise in the spirit of the overall comments, spending less time on personal reflections. I cannot help but express my surprise since I considered these to be a carefully orchestrated way to relax the pace; there was a time when pupils would use any trick in the book, usually bombarding the teacher with questions, to slow the pace.

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