Changes Made as a Result of Assessment

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The college routinely uses assessment information to make improvements to programs. Select a department or program below to see examples of assessment information in action for positive change:

Aerospace Engineering Sciences

Example 1: Sophomore and Junior courses were completely revised, as part of the Curriculum 2000 effort, to include substantial laboratory hands-on and group learning components. After reviewing the group vs. individual grading in all these courses as part of the department’s annual undergraduate curriculum review retreat, and after receiving numerous complaints from students about abuses by their peers, a new grading policy was instituted for these courses in the 2005/2006 academic year. This policy provides a two-tier grading system, whereby all students first receive a course grade determined solely by individual grades (exams, quizzes). If the individual grade is at least a C, then group work grades (homework, lab reports, group research reports) are factored into the individual’s course grade. This policy helps ensure that group work is used to improve an individual student’s understanding, not substitute for it.

Example 2: Feedback from students, informally and on FCQs, indicated a gap in the curriculum regarding use of computational tools between the Freshman computing course, and the expectation that students are computationally proficient in the Senior Design course. Corresponding comments by instructors in the Sophomore and Junior courses, informally and from the annual undergraduate curriculum review retreat, indicated that student computational proficiency was quite uneven. A department-wide effort was instituted to maintain and build proficiency in the Sophomore and Junior courses by requiring some computational homework and laboratory assignments in all theses courses, and by requiring students to use Matlab in these assignments. Initial feedback from instructors indicates that student computational proficiency has improved markedly as a result of this effort.

Applied Math

Example 1: Assessment Test - For the past 10 years, the Department of Applied Mathematics has administered an algebra/trig assessment test during the first week of classes.  This information has been used to advise students into the appropriate calculus class.   In an effort to get this information to students earlier in the registration period (i.e. before they register for fall semester classes) Applied Math, in conjunction with the Engineering Dean's office, has created a web-based assessment test for correct calculus placement.  This test was first offered on a large-scale basis in June 2007.  Based on feedback from the students, it will be revised for June 2008. 

Example 2: Orals - The Department of Applied Mathematics has begun using oral assessments in Calculus I and II classes to help students improve their conceptual understanding of basic calculus ideas.  Orals were first used in a two-semester calculus I class designed to help students at-risk of failing Calculus I, the gatekeeper to STEM majors.  The pass rate in the class went from about 10% to about 90%.  The department now offers fall-semester Calculus I and spring semester Calculus II students the opportunity to take part in oral assessments.  In fall 2007, the failure rate for Calculus I dropped from a traditional 30-33% to under 20%.  If the department’s pending CCLI II grant is funded, orals will be offered to a broader spectrum of classes.  Orals are voluntary and not graded.  Students attend orals to improve their understanding and to help themselves prepare for the written exam which follows orals by one or two days.  Small groups of 3-5 students are quizzed by a facilitator who has been given appropriate conceptual questions.  Orals allow facilitators to identify many of the students’ misconceptions and lets them work individually with students to clear up misunderstandings that are blocking their mastery of the material.  Students learn to defend their thinking, negotiate meaning with the facilitator and their fellow students, and are able to make mathematical connections in the process.  When students understand the reason for using procedures and are able to explain their graphical representations, they are then better able to extend their learning to novel situations.  They no longer have to simply “pattern match.”

SUMMARY: The Department of Applied Mathematics believes that better placement of the students, coupled with orals, has resulted in a significant drop in the fall 2007 failure rate in Calculus 1, APPM 1350.   We will continue to collect data to monitor this progress.

Architectural Engineering

Example 1:  AREN replaced CVEN 2012 Plane Surveying with CVEN 2012 Geomatics in the 2007/2008 academic year (similar to CVEN below). 

Example 2:  In fall 2008, AREN will be modifying its curriculum to replace the 2 course sequence of 2-credit Drawing courses (AREN 1017 and AREN 1027) with a single 3 credit drawing/AutoCAD course.  This change is a result of feedback from the 2006 Building Systems Joint Evaluation Committee (JEC) and CVEN JECs that have indicated different needs in the drawing course.

Example 3:  GEEN 1300 was accepted in lieu of AREN 2300 Introduction to Engineering Computing, starting in the 2007/2008 academic year, although the Catalog still shows the requirement for AREN 2300.  The change was made based on extensive review of computing by the curriculum committee which determined that the College-wide computing course would meet the needs of the AREN curriculum.  The course sequence in the curriculum remained in the sophomore year.

AREN 2300 (3). Introduction to Engineering Computing.
Examines three computational tools: spreadsheets and macros, compiled languages, and symbolic computation. Introduces principles of computing at each level using elementary but practical engineering problems. The course is designed to produce extensive capability with spreadsheets and working competency in programming. Prereqs., APPM 1350, 1360, and PHYS 1120.

GEEN 1300 (3). Introduction to Engineering Computing.
Introduces the use of computers in engineering problem solving and elementary numerical methods. Learn programming fundamentals, including data and algorithm structure, and modular programming. Numerical methods learned include solving single, nonlinear equations, fixed-poing iteration, Gaussian elimination, and linear regression. Software vehicles include Excel/VBA, MathCAD, and Matlab. Coreq., APPM 1350.

Note: significant changes to the AREN curriculum are being proposed in Fall 2008, based on feedback from the JEC process, alumni surveys, etc.

Chemical and Biological Engineering

Example 1:  A proposal for a new undergraduate major in Chemical and Biological Engineering was developed during the 2005/06 academic year, in response to student requests for a major program with a defined biological basis.  The proposed degree was reviewed and approved by the Board of Regents and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education in June, 2006.  Freshman and sophomores were admitted to the new degree program for Fall 2006.

Example 2:  Students in Chemical and Biological Engineering and alumni of the department have also expressed a strong interest in the development of a curriculum option in the field of energy.  Faculty within the department developed such a curriculum option for the 2007/08 academic year, in conjunction with student and advisory board input, with associated new courses to be taught by the department on energy and engineering.  Collaboration with the Mechanical Engineering and Geology departments is also underway to help strength option course offerings. An Energy Fundamentals course was taught for the first time in Fall 2007.

Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering

Example 1:  Water/Environment Joint Evaluation Committee (JEC) from March 2003 noted that more emphasis on statistics should be included in the curriculum.  This was again reiterated in the 2006 Water/Environment JEC.  As a result, Prof. Ken Strzepek taught CVEN 3227 Probability and Statistics in spring 2007 with more emphasis on statistics.  The course is a required course for all CVEN students.

CVEN 3227-3. Probability, Statistics and Decision. Introduces uncertainty based analysis concepts and applications in the planning and design of civil engineering systems emphasizing probabilistic, statistics, and design concepts and methods. Prereqs., APPM 2360, junior standing.

Example 2:  The 2006 Water/Environment Joint Evaluation Committee (JEC) indicated that GIS is more important for engineers than surveying.  Other JECs have also commented on changes in the field of CVEN away from traditional surveying.  In the curriculum, CVEN 2012 Plane Surveying, was changed to CVEN 2012 Introduction to Geomatics in the 2007/2008 catalog.  The course content was changed to include GIS and GPS in the course.

Description: CVEN 2012 (3). Introduction to Geomatics.
Observes, analyzes, and presents basic linear, angular, area, and volume field measurements common to civil engineering endeavors with application of GPS and GIS technology. Prereq., APPM 1350 or equivalent

Old course: CVEN 2012-3. Plane Surveying.
Observes, analyzes, and presents basic linear, angular, area, and volume field measurements common to civil engineering endeavors. Prereq., APPM 1350 or equivalent.

Example 3:  Engineering economics for CVEN has recently been covered in CVEN 3602  Transportation Systems and CVEN 32356 Introduction to Construction.  A 3-credit course CVEN 4147 Engineering Economy and System Design has been offered for over 10 years. (CVEN 4147-3. Engineering Economy and System Design. Theory and application of the principles of engineering economics, and classical and metaheuristic optimization techniques for evaluating problems in civil and environmental engineering. Prereq., senior standing.) The course was required in the Water/Environment track within CVEN, but not in the general track. 

In 2006/2007 when the CVEN curriculum went through its major revision, engineering economics was no longer required for any CVEN students. However, engineering economics is required per ABET in the program specific criteria for Civil Engineering.  On the spring 2007 FE exam, the CVEN students were 20% below the national average in the percentage of correct questions related to Engineering Economics.  Therefore, in the 2008/2009 academic year, a 1 credit course in Engineering Economics will be created that can be used as a technical elective.  There is a 1 credit technical elective course in the CVEN curriculum, despite the fact that no good upper division 1 credit technical elective courses have existed in the past.  Therefore, it is believed that the Engineering Economics course will be a popular option.  The course description for this new 1-credit course has not yet been developed.

Computer Science

Example 1:  As part of an NSF-funded project (started in 2001), we used social-scientific methods (interviews, observations, surveys, etc.) to assess how students approached group work.  We found a student culture where students actively resisted group work; specifically, when confronted by a group project, students often tried to avoid any actual collaboration (e.g., by splitting up the task in a way that required little group work).
Moreover, we realized that in order to change student culture we would need to incorporate collaboration into all aspects of our classes.   For example, asking students to collaborate in learning the material but not in assignments or in the classroom would not work: students would view collaboration as a compartmentalized skill that was only occasionally useful.  Thus, we came up with a number of interventions for incorporating collaboration both in and out of the classroom. 

For the classroom we developed the concept of a conversational classroom where students work together to learn the material; the instructor is there to facilitate the discussion.  For outside the classroom, we developed a knowledge-discovery framework that supports assignments (currently for two courses) that reward collaboration.  Our innovations are in use in several classes at the University of Colorado, have been published in the computer science education literature, and a number of universities are using our tools and techniques.

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Example 1:  For ECEN 2120 Computers as Components, we found that our students were not well-prepared for the programming assignments in this class. This observation was based on FCQs comments, feedback from Teaching Assistants, and some direct emails from students.  Since most of our students take the non-majors section of CSCI 1300, the Curriculum Committee met with a representative from the Computer Science Dept. to understand what was actually being covered in the course.  As result of those meetings, and further discussion in the Curriculum Committee, we have decided to pilot our own version of an introductory course in Fall 2008.  This new course will better meet the needs of our students by better preparing them for ECEN 2120 and several other core course in the Electrical Engineering curriculum. 

Example 2:  Based on interviews with our capstone students and FCQs from ECEN 3100 Logic Design, students found that the Xilinx development systems were difficult and cumbersome to use.  A couple of capstone groups tried using the Altera development systems instead.  As a result of this feedback, Prof. Avery, along with several ECE faculty, submitted an EEF proposal to help fund changing the ECEN 3100 labs to an Altera-based platform.  Prof. Avery is currently working on developing new laboratory experiments to be used starting in Fall 2008.

Environmental Engineering

Example 1:  On the senior exit survey administered by the College of Engineering, EVEN students indicated the number of professional societies they actively participated in.  Our students had low participation; for example in May and December 2006, 3 students participated in 0 societies and 3 students in 1 society.  By comparison, in May 2006 the participation data for the majors contributing to EVEN are shown in the table below:

Percentage of students participating in various numbers of professional societies
(May 2006 for all majors except EVEN for May and Dec. 2006)


Students responding to survey

Number of professional societies






























Participation of EVEN students in professional societies was lower than in CHEN and CVEN.  The Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET ( audit from Fall 2005 also noted the need for a student society (observation 2 in the audit letter).  EVEN earn-learn student Anna Herring organized meetings of the Society of Environmental Engineering (SEVEN).  SEVEN met 3 times in spring 2007, with attendance of up to 12 students (about 20% of all EVEN majors).  The group participated in E-days and volunteered for Earth Day Boulder Creek Clean-up.  In the 2007/2008 academic year, SEVEN had elected officers (tri-presidents and a treasurer), meet every 2 weeks, and received a grant from Sustainable CU.  The EVEN program provides a small amount of monetary assistance to the group so that they can provide food at their meetings.  The group also has a website.

Example 2:  The performance of EVEN students on the FE exam was reviewed.  The afternoon Environmental topic portion of the exam covers water resources, with 25% of the questions related to water resources, and hydrology as 1 of the 4 sub-topic in this area.  Numerical methods is not covered in the environmental or general exam.  In the years when Hydrology was required (2002-spring 2004), on average the EVEN students from CU performed at or above the national norm each semester.  During the Fall 2004-spring 2006 period when Hydrology was not required, there were 2 of 3 semesters when the average CU EVEN student performance was below the national average.  Therefore, in Fall 2006, CVEN 4333 Hydrology returned as a required course in the EVEN curriculum, replacing Numerical Methods.  In the semester since reinstating the requirement for hydrology, the percent correct questions on water resources questions has averaged 67% (versus 50% during the time period when the hydrology course was not required); this is about at the national average. 

Mechanical Engineering

Example 1:  Revision of  MCEN 4042 Thermal Systems Design.
Consistent underperformance of our students in the area of thermodynamics, fluids and heat transfer on the FE exam compared to national norms led to an assessment meeting of thermo-fluids faculty in Fall 2007. The topic areas of the FE exam were reviewed to determine if the metric was appropriate for our program, and it was determined to be a reasonable but not perfect fit. The contents of all the related required courses (MCEN 3012 Thermo, MCEN 3021 Fluids, MCEN 3022 Heat Transfer and MCEN 4042 Thermal Systems Design) were then reviewed in the context of the FE topic areas. The timing of the topics within the curriculum, particularly with respect to requirements the capstone Senior Design course, overall credit hour loading,  our program outcomes and ABET requirements was also reviewed. The junior level courses were found to be appropriate, but MCEN 4042 Thermal Systems Design was found to not meet our needs with respect to topic areas, timing, structure and teaching resources. The course is undergoing significant revision, and will be offered next in Spring 2009. An instructor and textbook have been identified, and revised learning objectives are being drafted.

Example 2:  MCEN 2024 Materials Science
Every three years, each required undergraduate course undergoes a thorough review in the form of a Task Force process, which examines a wide range of data related to the course, including related FE scores, instructor FCQ data, and student assessment of how well the course learning objectives are being met. In Fall 2007, MCEN 2024 Materials Science was reviewed as the schedule required. Results indicated that although the instructor who had taught the course for many years was getting acceptable FCQs, some of the course learning objectives were not being met. FE data did not indicate a weakness in this area, but instructors of subsequent courses voiced concern that students were not adequately prepared, and that they were spending too much time in review of materials. As a result, a process similar to that described for the thermo area was carried out. Concerned faculty met to discuss the metrics, the list of topics, and the timing in the curriculum. The learning objectives are now being revised to match the consensus of faculty in the area, and a new instructor is in place for Fall 08.

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