Rocky Mountain (56th Annual) and Cordilleran (100th Annual) Joint Meeting (May 3–5, 2004)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 1:20 PM


MCDOUGALL, James W. and HITZ, Ralph B., Mathematics and Sciences, Tacoma Community College, 6501 S. 19th St, Tacoma, WA 98466-6100,

In our challenge to design assessment activities to measure the effectiveness of our programs and improve them, we identify associations between elements and activities in our geology courses and our college-wide learning outcomes. In our assessments, students report outcomes that express their understanding of geoscience principles and how they will apply their knowledge and research methods in other areas of their education and their lives. Based on the results, we examine effectiveness of methods of learning and the relevance of our course content.

Our evaluation methods generate data conducive to a diversity of interpretive approaches, e.g., to generate quantitative survey information that can be treated statistically as well as information derived from essays and interview questions. We ascertain our students’ prior knowledge and baseline information in defining a problem, gathering data and testing the validity of sources of information, establishing goals, and setting up a timetable for communicating results. We follow the initial assessment with a similar second one, after the students have been exposed to investigative techniques.

Promising assessment models are offered and may be used and modified for many science and non-science courses. Our successful questions assess through case studies, short writing exercises, reflective papers, interviews, and questionnaires and were applied 2-3 times over several years. Particularly useful trial subjects in geology include the flow dynamics of groundwater, prediction and implications of slope instability, interpretation of scientific method in rock and mineral identification, coastal erosion problems, and societal implications of geological investigations. Many questions focus on understanding of the application of a particular technique, e.g., soil coring, to solve a real problem, where the knowledge is based on field or laboratory work and can be measured.

The general appeal of geology as a science experience for non-majors and its breadth make it ideally suited to identify science outcomes of a college or university as a whole. We convey our philosophies of using student interpretations of methods and our course content to assess and vitalize our courses.