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How Much Is Too Much Assessment? Insight into Assessment-Driven Student Learning Gains in Large-Scale Undergraduate Microbiology Courses

    Authors: Jack T. H. Wang1,*, Mark A. Schembri1, Roy A. Hall1
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    Affiliations: 1: School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Published 06 May 2013
    • *Corresponding author. Mailing address: School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, Room 76-404A, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, 4072, Australia. Phone: 61-7-3346-9490. Fax: 61-7-3365-4699. E-mail: t.wang1@uq.edu.au.
    • ©2013 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology.
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 12-24. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.449
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    Abstract:

    Designing and implementing assessment tasks in large-scale undergraduate science courses is a labor-intensive process subject to increasing scrutiny from students and quality assurance authorities alike. Recent pedagogical research has provided conceptual frameworks for teaching introductory undergraduate microbiology, but has yet to define best-practice assessment guidelines. This study assessed the applicability of Biggs’ theory of constructive alignment in designing consistent learning objectives, activities, and assessment items that aligned with the American Society for Microbiology’s concept-based microbiology curriculum in MICR2000, an introductory microbiology course offered at the University of Queensland, Australia. By improving the internal consistency in assessment criteria and increasing the number of assessment items explicitly aligned to the course learning objectives, the teaching team was able to efficiently provide adequate feedback on numerous assessment tasks throughout the semester, which contributed to improved student performance and learning gains. When comparing the constructively aligned 2011 offering of MICR2000 with its 2010 counterpart, students obtained higher marks in both coursework assignments and examinations as the semester progressed. Students also valued the additional feedback provided, as student rankings for course feedback provision increased in 2011 and assessment and feedback was identified as a key strength of MICR2000. By designing MICR2000 using constructive alignment and iterative assessment tasks that followed a common set of learning outcomes, the teaching team was able to effectively deliver detailed and timely feedback in a large introductory microbiology course. This study serves as a case study for how constructive alignment can be integrated into modern teaching practices for large-scale courses.

Key Concept Ranking

Environmental Microbiology
0.5292427
Microbial Ecology
0.5267811
Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
0.4430869
T Cell Receptor
0.40768683
0.5292427

References & Citations

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14. Rowland SL, Smith CA, Gillam EM, Wright T2011The concept lens diagram: a new mechanism for presenting biochemistry content in terms of “big ideas”Biochem Mol Biol Educ3926727910.1002/bmb.2051721774055 http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/bmb.20517
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17. The Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University1998Reinventing undergraduate education: a blueprint for america’s research universitiesState University of New York, Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research UniversityStony Brook, NYhttp://www.niu.edu/engagedlearning/research/pdfs/Boyer_Report.pdf.
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/content/journal/jmbe/10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.449
2013-05-06
2017-09-23

Abstract:

Designing and implementing assessment tasks in large-scale undergraduate science courses is a labor-intensive process subject to increasing scrutiny from students and quality assurance authorities alike. Recent pedagogical research has provided conceptual frameworks for teaching introductory undergraduate microbiology, but has yet to define best-practice assessment guidelines. This study assessed the applicability of Biggs’ theory of constructive alignment in designing consistent learning objectives, activities, and assessment items that aligned with the American Society for Microbiology’s concept-based microbiology curriculum in MICR2000, an introductory microbiology course offered at the University of Queensland, Australia. By improving the internal consistency in assessment criteria and increasing the number of assessment items explicitly aligned to the course learning objectives, the teaching team was able to efficiently provide adequate feedback on numerous assessment tasks throughout the semester, which contributed to improved student performance and learning gains. When comparing the constructively aligned 2011 offering of MICR2000 with its 2010 counterpart, students obtained higher marks in both coursework assignments and examinations as the semester progressed. Students also valued the additional feedback provided, as student rankings for course feedback provision increased in 2011 and assessment and feedback was identified as a key strength of MICR2000. By designing MICR2000 using constructive alignment and iterative assessment tasks that followed a common set of learning outcomes, the teaching team was able to effectively deliver detailed and timely feedback in a large introductory microbiology course. This study serves as a case study for how constructive alignment can be integrated into modern teaching practices for large-scale courses.

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FIGURE 1

Comparison of progressive course assessment schedules throughout 14 weeks of semester in 2010 and 2011 offerings of MICR2000.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 12-24. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.449
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Image of FIGURE 2

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FIGURE 2

Comparison of prior academic performance of students in 2010 (n = 265) and 2011 (n = 264) offerings of MICR2000. (A) Breakdown of student performance in BIOL1020 prior to enrolling in 2010 and 2011 offerings of MICR2000. BIOL1020 – “Genes, Cells, and Evolution” is offered at UQ as the only prerequisite course before entering MICR2000. (B) Cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) of students enrolled in 2010 and 2011 offerings of MICR2000. The cumulative GPA for each student was calculated through their mean grade (1–7, 7 being the highest) across UQ courses for a minimum of one full year of tertiary study. GPA bands are as determined by the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre for student selection ranking when enrolling in tertiary programs ( 13 ).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 12-24. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.449
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FIGURE 3

Distribution of student performance in Project Reports across 2010 (n = 265) and 2011 (n = 264) offerings of MICR2000.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 12-24. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.449
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Image of FIGURE 4

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FIGURE 4

Student responses to the Attitudes and Skills After Practicals (ASAP) survey instrument. Students were invited to voluntarily respond to surveys regarding their perception of learning gains made in (A) attitudes toward microbiology and (B) scientific skills separately in 2010 (n = 90) and 2011 (n = 43). Student rankings of learning gains were quantified as follows: 1 = No Gain; 2 = Little Gain; 3 = Moderate Gain; 4 = Good Gain; 5 = Great Gain. Bars represent mean +/− standard error of the mean (SEM). *Denotes a statistically significant difference between student responses for 2010 and 2011 offerings of MICR2000, as determined by the Mann-Whitney U test ( < 0.05).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 12-24. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.449
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FIGURE 5

Student performance in (A) midsemester and (B) final exams across 2010 (n = 265) and 2011 (n = 264) offerings of MICR2000.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 12-24. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.449
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FIGURE 6

Student Evaluation of Course and Teaching (SECaT) scores across 2010 and 2011 offerings of MICR2000. Students were invited to voluntarily respond to surveys regarding their evaluation of teaching within MICR2000 in 2010 (n = 108) and 2011 (n = 87) using a standardized University-Wide Student Evaluation of Course and Teaching (SECaT) survey instrument. Student responses corresponded to a 5-point Likert scale and quantified as follows: 1 = Strongly Disagree; 2 = Disagree; 3 = Neutral; 4 = Agree; 5 = Strongly Agree. Bars represent mean +/− standard error of the mean (SEM). *Denotes a statistically significant difference between student responses for 2010 and 2011 offerings of MICR2000, as determined by the Mann-Whitney U test ( < 0.05).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2013 vol. 14 no. 1 12-24. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.449
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