Microsoft word - differing_knowledge_interests.doc

Enhancing Assessment in the Biological Sciences
Ideas and resources for university educators
Introduction Many units of study in the biological sciences include students from a variety of degree programs, and with a diversity of prior study in the discipline. This is particularly true for first year units. It is common for first year biology units, for example, to include some students who have excel ed at senior school biology, some who have struggled with the subject, and others who have studied no Biology beyond Year 10. The students wil also differ in their particular areas of interests, and may be enrol ed in a range of different degree programs in the biological sciences. My Biology 1 course here, like I think in other universities, has to satisfy students who wil go on and be ecologists and wildlife biologists. Equal y wel , it's got to satisfy people who are going to be biochemists and nurses. So every year it's a trade-off, and every year the nurses say, "Why do I have to know about chlorophyl ? Why do I have to know about plants? I am a nurse." And the nutrition people say, "I've come to university to study food science - why do I have to know about DNA?" [academic; coordinator of first year biology unit with 500 students, a unit which provides a foundation for many different courses] We heard of numerous strategies for engaging and supporting such diverse groups and many of these relate in some way to assessment - directly, such as tasks designed to engage students with diverse interests, and indirectly, such as additional support and resources to assist students with limited prior knowledge. 1. Enhancing assessment for groups of students with diverse prior knowledge In general, the assessment-related strategies described to us involve either (a) additional support and clarity to assist students with limited background in the discipline, or (b) additional chal enge for students with more advanced knowledge. a) Strategies described for assisting students with limited prior knowledge include: Peer-learning - encouraging students to work together and to provide feedback to one another [Examples: Miller 1; Mil er 2][see also: Peer and self-assessment]; Self-assessment - including provision of online quizzes; purpose-designed diagnostic tools; skil s 'checklists'; electronic student response system (keypads) in class; and 'practice tests' under typical test conditions [Examples: Peat 3; Peat 5; Peat 6; Plastow; Rogers 2; Ross 1; Wood 1][see also: Tests and quizzes]; Additional classes and tutorial support - specific for the subject or discipline, and may be provided online [Examples: Rogers 1; Wood 2]; Study skills support - encouraging students to utilise university-wide programs [Example: Cavanagh 1]; Explicit assessment criteria and standards - ensuring that expectations are made clear for al students [Examples: Mulder 3; Noble; Ross 3; Taylor 2]; Gradual introduction to the language of the discipline [Examples: Taylor 1; Taylor 2]; and Using targeted preparatory exercises before lectures so that students are familiar with the material and vocabulary, fol owed by the use keypad technology at the beginning of the lecture for formative assessment of prior knowledge [Example: Wood 1]. Many of these approaches - such as peer-learning, self-assessment, and explicit criteria and standards - are potential y beneficial to al students, irrespective of prior learning in the discipline. b) Strategies described for assisting students with advanced knowledge and abilities include: Additional assessment - optional 'bonus' assessment, such as preparing an extra, advanced essay per semester, worth up to 10 per cent; and Different entry levels for particularly accomplished students - such as second-year entry. To reference material from this site, please use: Harris, K-L., Krause, K., Gleeson, D., Peat, M., Taylor, C. & Garnett, R. (2007). Enhancing Assessment in the Biological Sciences: Ideas and resources for university educators. Available at: Enhancing Assessment in the Biological Sciences: i
deas and resources for university educators
2. Enhancing assessment for groups of students with diverse interests The assessment approaches used to accommodate the diverse interests of students revolve around providing students with choice and include: Choice in assessment topic [Examples: Fairweather 1; Hargreaves 2; Majer]; Choice in method of assessment [Example: Sanderson]; Choice in the composition of groups for group projects - either mixed or same interest groups, depending on the project and aims of the unit [Examples: Kleindorfer; Meyer]; Choice in their work experience [Example: Cooke 2]; and Giving students opportunities to be creative in the materials they present for assessment [Examples: Ross 2; Ross 4]. Support for this project has been provided by the Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of The Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.


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