Assessment report for BL A 512 (Signal Transduction) [prepared 5/14/02].

A total of 5 graduate students completed BL A512 (one in chemistry, the other 4 in biology).

The scores for these students out of 100 points total for the midterm exam were:
The scores for these students out of 100 points total for the final exam were:
rank midterm final grade
#1 84 89 A
#2 86 84 A
#3 68.5 69 B+
#4 45.5 41.5 B
#5 39 36.5 C

It is remarkable that graduate level students in relevant departments spread out in a distribution with 2/5 students scoring substantially less than 50% on each test. On the other side of the coin, the performance of poor students is a metric to exhault the performance of the top students, in the 80's on both tests. Students also researched a topic and gave a presentation. Although these were all good, the subjectivity in my evaluation makes it difficult to quantify in any meaningful way. However, my impression correlated perfectly with the ranking based on exam totals. It is apparent that the assessment is as much of the course and its material as it is of the top-notch students.

At the present time, I retain the exams for record.

At the present time, the course (exams included) can be found at:

Below, I reproduce the assessment plan:

Assessment Plan for BL A512 Signal Transduction, Spring semester, 2002
Dr. William Stark
Prepared January, 2002


The purpose of this course is to serve as one option as a required course for masters and doctoral students in "cellular and molecular regulation" (CMR) in the Department of Biology.


A student successfully completing BL A 512 lecture should be well educated in the
properties of membrane signal transduction, channels, G protein-coupled signal
pathways, and pathways regulating transcription. Biology graduate students
attaining these goals will be prepared for coverage of this material on their
M.S. and Ph.D oral exams. Other students will have acquired a broad foundation in
Signal Transduction.

In compliance with a requirement from the Provost's office, as communicated to Biology faculty Fall, 2001 by Biology's assessment committee, these objectives are made available to students on the syllabus (in my case by being hyperlinked to the syllabus on my course web site on 12/19/01).

Course Goals

Students are expected to learn a considerable amount of information in the field of
signal transduction provided by:
(a) Selected portions from a modern and pedagogically advanced text.
(b) Classic and modern papers.
(c) A web page providing lecture outlines and past examinations (
(d) Lectures utilizing the web outline and informational diagrams.


Midterm and final exams are administered, graded, and returned to the students as part of their learning experiences. Special features of the exam is as follows:
(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.

Each student uses the exposure (s)he has gained to select a topic with recent research in an area relevant to signal transduction and of interest to that student. (S)he then prepares a short presentation describing the major findings. The presentation is judged on the basis of
(a) the student's understanding
(b) the clarity of the presentation
(c) the quality of the recent literature search


On September 21, 2000, "each faculty member" was charged to "develop an outcome assessment tool." It is difficult for a professor to guess at the expectations of administrators or others who might examine our documents. It seems possible that the hope is that all students would appear to perform marvelously. However, the simple truth is that many biology courses, this one included, strive to present students with a substantial amount of information; and that there has always been considerable variability among students in their ability to assimilate such information. For this reason, 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 tests must be challenging enough to distinguish different performance levels. Applied to determining whether the course goals were met, only the performance of the best students on the test can be a meaningful way to assess outcome. Also, assembled across the whole department, this overall strategy is too chaotic to determine whether students are learning enough to be competitive on a national level.

Syllabus posting:

In compliance with a requirement from the Provost's office, relayed to the Biology faculty at a faculty meeting on January 14, 2002 by the chair and the assessment committee, I will hyperlink a brief statement about assessment to the syllabus (see above, Assessment section).

This page was last updated on January 24, 2003

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