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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: [email protected].
    • ©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

1. American Association for the Advancement of Science 2010 Vision and change in undergraduate biology education: a call to action American Association for the Advancement of Science Washington, DC http://visionandchange.org/files/2010/03/VC_report.pdf.
2. Atherton JS 2011 Teaching and learning; forms of assessment http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/assess_form.htm.
3. Biggs J 2003 Aligning teaching and assessing to course objectives. University of Aveiro, Oliveira de Azeméis, Portugal http://www.josemnazevedo.uac.pt/proreitoria/docs/biggs.pdf.
4. Cook A 2001 Assessing the use of flexible assessment Assess Eval Higher Educ 26 539 549 10.1080/02602930120093878 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602930120093878
5. Duncan DB, Lubman A, Hoskins SG 2011 Introductory biology textbooks under-represent scientific process J Microbiol Biol Educ 12 143 151
6. Gibbs G, Simpson C 2004–2005 Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning Learn Teach Higher Educ 1 3 31
7. Hartfield PJ 2010 Reinforcing constructivist teaching in advanced level Biochemistry through the introduction of case-based learning activities J Learn Des 3 20 31
8. Hestenes D, Wells M, Swackhamer G 1992 Force concept inventory Phys Teach 30 141 158 10.1119/1.2343497 http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.2343497
9. Karpicke JD, Roediger HL 3rd 2008 The critical importance of retrieval for learning Science 319 966 968 10.1126/science.1152408 18276894 http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1152408
10. Knight JK, Wood WB 2005 Teaching more by lecturing less Cell Biol Educ 4 298 310 10.1187/05-06-0082 16341257 1305892 http://dx.doi.org/10.1187/05-06-0082
11. Merkel S 2012 The development of curricular guidelines for introductory microbiology that focus on understanding J Microbiol Biol Educ 13 32 38
12. Mulford DR, Robinson WR 2002 An inventory for alternate conceptions among first-semester general chemistry students J Chem Educ 79 739 744 10.1021/ed079p739 http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ed079p739
13. Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre 2012 Upgrading via Tertiary Study. Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre http://www.qtac.edu.au/InfoSheets/UpgradingViaTertiary.html.
14. Rowland SL, Smith CA, Gillam EM, Wright T 2011 The concept lens diagram: a new mechanism for presenting biochemistry content in terms of “big ideas” Biochem Mol Biol Educ 39 267 279 10.1002/bmb.20517 21774055 http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/bmb.20517
15. SALG 2008 Student assessment of their learning gains http://www.salgsite.org/.
16. Smith AC, Marbach-Ad G 2010 Learning outcomes with linked assessments—an essential part of our regular teaching practice J Microbiol Biol Educ 11 123 129
17. The Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University 1998 Reinventing undergraduate education: a blueprint for america’s research universities State University of New York, Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University Stony Brook, NY http://www.niu.edu/engagedlearning/research/pdfs/Boyer_Report.pdf.
18. Thistlethwaite J 2012 Interprofessional education: a review of context, learning and the research agenda Med Educ 46 58 70 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2011.04143.x http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2923.2011.04143.x
19. U.S. Department of Education 2006 A test of leadership—charting the future of u.S. Higher education Commission on the Future of Higher Education, U.S. Department of Education Washington, DC http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/hiedfuture/reports/final-report.pdf.
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/content/journal/jmbe/10.1128/jmbe.v14i1.449
2013-05-06
2019-02-19

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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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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Image of FIGURE 5

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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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Image of FIGURE 6

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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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