ASSESSMENT OF STUDENT LEARNING DURING A COMPLEX, MULTI-YEAR, MULTI-DISCIPLINARY PROJECT: A MODEL FROM TRINITY UNIVERSITY
The project’s three primary goals are related to the application of a new portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer (XRF) and a new inductively-coupled plasma - optical emission spectrometer (ICP) to teaching and research: Goal 1 - To improve both science and non-science majors’ understanding and appreciation of the scientific method by providing engaging, interdisciplinary opportunities; Goal 2 - To improve the depth of understanding of the application of elemental analysis methods and spectroscopies in college students at all curricular levels; and Goal 3 - To develop students’ appreciation and recognition of the inherent interdisciplinary nature of many scientific problems while fostering multidisciplinary faculty interactions to form the foundation for future collaborations.
Although we use standard student assessments, including lab reports, questions on quizzes and exams, anonymous pre- and post-activity online surveys, classroom discussions in the context of project-related topics, and post-term comments on student evaluations, we also hired an independent external evaluator. Our evaluator provided a formative assessment report, which focused on our grant activities in the context of our project goals. He had access to the above-stated assessments, interviewed all faculty and staff involved in the project, and interviewed undergraduates who have used the analytical tools in their own research. He found that all goals were being met, but that greater communication between students at different curricular levels and with different academic backgrounds (e.g., science vs. non-science) could further improve the effectiveness of activities. This assessment structure has permitted us to modify pedagogy in a meaningful way, with formative assessments positively impacting student learning during the project. We hope that our summative assessment will provide us with rich data for future learner-based initiatives.