Navigating from vision to change: The development of an ecology and evolution assessment that measures student learning across the major
The Vision and Change report outlines a set of core concepts and competencies for undergraduate biology majors. Departments seeking to promote student achievement of these goals must know the extent to which undergraduates understand these core concepts as they progress through their degree. To assist departments in this process, the NSF BioMAPS project is currently developing a suite of tools specifically aimed at exploring conceptual understanding at multiple points during undergraduate study. One of these assessments, known as the BioMAPS Evolution and Ecology assessment, is aligned to the general concepts outlined in Vision and Change, and a set of core principles and learning outcomes specific to ecology and evolution. The set of core principles and learning outcomes was generated through textbook review and iterative expert feedback. The assessment questions were designed and validated with input from faculty and student interviews. These questions successfully assess both introductory and advanced student conceptual understanding of ecology and evolution.
The BioMaps Evolution and Ecology assessment includes ten question stems and approximately 5-8 statements under each question stem that students rate as being Likely or Not likely. These statements are aligned to Vision and Change and a set of evolution and ecology core principles and learning outcomes. The ten question stems are focused on different systems, including terrestrial, marine, and freshwater environments and require students to apply their conceptual knowledge to the ecology and evolution of organisms that span the tree of life. The systems in the question stems are not typically included in standard textbooks and therefore are intended to explore student’s ability to transfer and apply conceptual understanding to new situations. These questions were iteratively developed through extensive faculty feedback in the form of individual review and focus groups. At the same time, all questions were response-validated through more than 50 student interviews. Through surveying concepts that span ecology and evolution, this assessment provides departments with a new approach for conducting programmatic assessment; a longitudinal measure for how well novice undergraduate learners are being transformed into adaptive experts in ecology and evolution.