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Department of Geological Sciences
Last updated 10/4/99

Knowledge and skill goals for this undergraduate degree program are recorded in the most recent CU-Boulder catalog.

In some summaries of assessment activity, goals are referred to by number (e.g., K-2 is knowledge goal 2).

In 1989-90 the department was restructuring its curriculum to provide students with more flexibility and the ability to pursue areas of specific interest, consistent with the responses of graduating seniors on an exit questionnaire. Plans for outcomes assessment procedures were modified during that year to accomodate the curriculum changes and were first implemented in 1990-91.

Most years the department has used four methods to evaluate achievement of its goals.

  • Graduating seniors complete an exit questionnaire.
  • The department chair conducts private interviews with graduating seniors.
  • Four items were added to the Faculty Course Questionnaire (FCQ) for all undergraduate geology courses. The students answer on a 0-4 scale, from "strongly disagree" (0) to "strongly agree" (4). The items are :
    • The increase in my knowledge about this subject was...
    • Course broadened my general intellectual development.
    • Course prepared me for my career.
    • Course content was worthwhile.
  • From 1990-91 through 1994-95 graduating seniors took the Educational Testing Services' (ETS) Major Field Achievement Test (MFAT) in Geology. The MFAT is a nationally standardized test, based on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) , the nation's standard graduate school entrance exam, and designed to assess knowledge and skills in the major. Unfortunately, this test was discontinued in l996 and is no longer a component of the department's outcomes assessment process. However, ETS does provide to undergraduate institutions summaries of their students' GRE scores, by department. Although these are not perfect -- they do not include all students, but rather only students who (1) were applying to graduate school, and thus took the GRE, and (2) chose to indicate on the test form that CU-Boulder was their undergraduate institution and that Geology was their major -- we believe they provide useful information, and have begun to use them as a new outcomes evaluation tool.

Senior exit questionnaire: Most of the graduating seniors who respond to the survey indicate that they intend to seek employment as geologists, usually after attending a graduate school in the geosciences. Overall the students' ratings of the program suggest that geological sciences appears to be doing a good job of training undergraduate majors and senior students in the field. Most of the courses required or commonly taken for the undergraduate major in geology are rated each year as quite satisfactory. The faculty pay particular attention each year to courses that the previous year's seniors identified as needing upgrading and modification to better serve the needs of the undergraduate majors. In recent years, for example, ratings improved for the courses that had been singled out as needing such attention, and this change was also seen in those course's FCQ results.

When asked "what aspects of the undergraduate major do you feel should be strengthened or changed?" students do not tend to pick the same problems, indicating that the department's undergraduate offering has no obvious, easily identifiable holes. Recent suggestions have included stronger advising and integrating the required senior paper with the University Writing Program. The question, "What aspects of the undergraduate major do you feel are especially good?" gets somewhat more common response. Students like the access to the faculty and the small upper-level class sizes. Most students think that the professors with whom they came in contact were excellent teachers, full of knowledge, who stressed independent thinking as well as memorization. Most professors were found to be warm and caring rather than cold and impersonal. Many students especially favored the field trips to local spots.

FCQ: The FCQ questions are answered by all students taking earth science courses, non-majors as well as majors. In general, geological sciences faculty receive teaching evaluations that are above the campus average. Responses to the four special questions have been fairly consistent over the years with average ratings across the courses in the 3-3.5 range on the 4-point scale, indicating that students feel these courses increased their knowledge of the subject and general intellectual development, and have worthwhile content. Students in upper-division courses, who are more likely to be majors than students in lower-division courses, are consistently more likely to say that the courses prepared them for careers.

Average course ratings for the department's introductory courses are below the average campus course rating and below the ratings for the department's smaller, more intensive, upper-division courses. This is not uncommon in introductory courses, where most of the students are not majoring in the area and take these large lecture courses only for the college requirements. The mean rating of "B" does reflect a general appreciation of the course contents. Nonetheless, the department will continue to try to find ways to enhance the presentation of introductory material.

MFAT and GRE scores: Average MFAT scores, both overall and for various subareas of geological science, were consistently higher than the national norms in most areas between l992 and l995. In 1994-95, for example, CU-Boulder students averages were in the 65th to 90th percentiles for the various subareas, and in the 78th percentile overall. In general, these results of the MFAT verify that geology majors are becoming well prepared to meet the challenges of graduate school and a career in geoscience and related fields. This test was discontinued by the Educational testing service in l996.

Summary GRE scores for our students who took this test in 1997-98 indicate average verbal, quantitative, and analytical scores above the 60th percentile, with average scores on the Geology exam also above the 60th percentile.

Chairman's private interview: As in the exit survey and FCQ, the graduating seniors feel that they have received an excellent education in geology, but encourage more flexibility in the undergraduate curriculum. They continue to appreciate the field experiences and experiences in applied ("real world") geological problem solving and, as they do on the exit survey, often suggest that there be even more of these. Some students recommend more use of higher math in geology classes and more emphasis on technical writing throughout the major. Responses to specific interview questions in 1994-95 indicated no significant gender problems in the department.

The new curriculum plan begun in 1991-92 and fully implemented in 1993-94 does allow greater flexibility and provide more field experience and practical geological problem solving. It also includes a technical writing class and attempts to incorporate both computer applications and higher math into appropriate geology courses. Other changes are ongoing, such as fine-tuning modifications in courses suggested by results from the questionnaire, the FCQs, and MFAT performance. In addition, the department moved into a new building in 1997. That means better classrooms, equipment, displays, laboratories, and a better overall ambiance.

During 1996-97 the department underwent a full Program Review Process (PRP). Detailed results of this PRP are contained in the self study report. As part of this report, questionnaires were mailed to undergraduate alumni from 1989-1995. Fifty-one percent of the alumni responded. The major findings from this questionnaire include:

  • 77% of would major in Geology again.
  • 70% were satisfied to very satisfied with the overall program.
  • 80% were satisfied to very satisfied with the faculty and the opportunities for interaction with the faculty.
  • 40% of the respondents were pursuing advanced degrees.

Other positive findings in the PRP report related to the department's undergraduate program include the facts that the number of majors has doubled since the last PRP report in l989. Also the report noted the success of the department's Undergradaute Mentoring Program, funded by alumni and industry gifts, which provided 30 $1000 grants to involve undergraduate majors in research projects with faculty and graduate students. The success of this program, which began in l995-96, has only just begun to become apparent in our exit interviews.


Last revision 07/12/02

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