a pencil on a scantron

dB-SERC provides support for faculty members in Natural Sciences at Pitt who are interested in assessment of teaching and learning.

  • Conceptual assessments (in the fields of physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, and geology) and attitudinal assessments can be found on the assessment page
  • If you would like to set up a meeting to discuss assessment issues for a course you are teaching or a grant proposal you are writing which has a significant educational component, email Dr. Emily Marshman, the dB-SERC Assessment Consultant.

Before implementing evidence-based teaching and learning one should compile a list of what initial knowledge do students have, what measurable goals are intended to be achieved via the instructional innovation and think carefully about how to design instruction aligned with the initial knowledge of students and course goals and scientifically assess the extent to which each goal is achieved. In essence, one should ask the following questions:

  1. What is the initial knowledge of the students that is relevant for instruction (content-based initial knowledge including alternative-conceptions, problem solving and reasoning skills, mathematical skills, epistemological beliefs, attitude, motivation, self-efficacy etc.)?
  2. What should students know and be able to do?
  3. What does proficiency in this course look like?
  4. What evidence would I accept as demonstrating proficiency? What evidence would be acceptable to my colleagues?
  5. How can I design instruction that builds on students’ initial knowledge and takes them systematically to a final knowledge state which is commensurate with course goals?
  6. Are the initial knowledge of students, course goals, instructional design and assessment methods aligned with each other?

A typical goal of a science course is to provide students with a firm conceptual understanding of the underlying knowledge.

  • It is therefore not surprising that discipline-based education researchers in many disciplines have developed assessment instruments designed to assess students’ conceptual understanding.
    • The data from these instruments can be used to assess the initial knowledge of the students if administered as a pre-test before instruction and inform what students learned and what aspects of the material were challenging if given after instruction as a post-test.
    • These data can help improve instructional design, e.g., by pinpointing where more attention should be focused to improve student learning (if the post-test is administered right after instruction, it can serve as a formative assessment tool and if it is given at the end of the term, it can still be helpful for improving learning for future students).

Another goal (perhaps less typical) is to improve students’ attitudes about the nature of science and learning science and provide them with an understanding of what science is and what it takes to be successful in science courses.

  • To this end as well, discipline-based educational researchers have developed assessment instruments that are either discipline specific or about science in general.

In addition, education researchers have developed instruments to assess the classroom environment which can provide valuable data pertaining to the experiences of students and how they perceive an instructional innovation. Such data can be used to refine an instructional innovation and improve the classroom climate.

Also, in many science courses, students are expected to develop good problem solving strategies and to this end, instruments have been developed to assess students’ attitudes and approaches to problem solving.