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Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology
Last updated 1/24/2003

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).

Assessment 2001-2002
Assessment prior to 1998

Assessment 2001-2002

Since 1990-91 the department has assessed undergraduate students' knowledge of the concepts, data, theory, and modes of explanation in the field in various ways. At the end of AY 2000-2001 the Department chose to pilot the use of the Major Field Achievement Test (MFAT) in biology. The MFAT is a nationally standardized exam, based on the GRE, designed to assess knowledge and skills in the major. Student volunteers were recruited from Senior-level MCDB courses and took the test as a group outside of class time. Although not randomly selected, the small sample of 18 students was reasonably typical of graduating MCDB majors. In future years a larger, representative sample will be used. This figure depicts the average results of the pilot study.

The scores reported are the MCDB students compared with 184 institutions in the Year 2000. Red bars indicate topic areas emphasized in the MCDB curriculum, green bars show all other areas of biology. Names in bold type indicate broad subject areas and "Indicators" under each are specific subareas within them. The results indicate that MCDB is meeting stated knowledge and skill goals. Overall, the MCDB graduating seniors scored in the 97th Percentile. In all areas emphasized in MCDB, and in analytical skills, the students scored above the 96th percentile (in the 99th in five areas). The students were above to well-above average in the areas not specifically enphasized in MCDB.

The MCDB undergraduate curriculum is regularly examined to ensure an integrated progression of topics and appropriate depth of presentation as a student proceeds through the Department's curriculum. These results indicate that such efforts are successful and they will be continued. The Department also uses graduation-related statistics and post-college pursuits of its majors as an indication of how well curricular goals are being met. The following data describes MCDB majors who graduated in 2001-2002:

Cumulative GPA: Mean 3.30, Median 3.43
Major (MCDB) GPA: Mean 3.31, Median 3.43
Graduating with a second major: 32% (largest group: Biochemistry 13%)
Graduating with a minor: 53% (largest groups: Biochemistry 35%, Chemistry 11%)
Graduating with honors: summa cum laude 5%, magna cum laude 4%, cum laude 1%
Graduating with Distinction: 18%
Phi Beta Kappa: 13%
Ethnicity: white 73%, all other 26%, not reported 1%
Gender: female 55%, male 45%
Independent Study participants: 36%
Graduates taking more than the requirement of three MCDB electives: 56%

Post-graduate plans:

Medical School: 23%
Graduate School:11%
Other Professional School: 15%
Work: 12%
Other: 6%
Not reported: 33%

Department faculty judge that these data indicate the exemplary quality of MCDB majors and the high value of the curriculum provided to them.


Assessment prior to 1998

MCD-Biology has used embedded assessments to evaluate seniors' performance on some of its goals each year. Methods have included independent evaluation of papers, reports, and exercises or of specially prepared questions inserted into exams in senior-level courses. Material is evaluated separately from course-grade judgements, on criteria specifically related to the selected knowledge or skill goals. Usually, two or more evaluators examine the material and their scores are compared. The specific goals evaluated and the courses and methods used have varied from year to year; details are in the department's annual outcomes assessment reports.

Examples include:

  • exercises testing students' ability to formulate two hypotheses to explain a set of data, use the hypotheses to predict the results of further tests, and design an experiment to distinguish between the two hypotheses;
  • oral presentations on major articles from recent professional journals, focusing on why and how the research was done and on the validity and interpretation of the data;
  • formal debates between student teams on topics dealing with the interaction between biotechnology and society, evaluated for the students' ability to obtain pertinent material, identify various sides of the topic, and deal with different points of view;
  • evaluation of how effectively students could identify and criticize false, misleading or unbalanced presentations of current knowledge and research achievements; and
  • assessment of laboratory skills in the final required laboratory course for MCD-Biology seniors.

In addition, graduating seniors in 1992-93 were given an exit survey. 85% of the approximately 85 graduating seniors responded. Most students were satisfied with their undergraduate experiences in MCD-Biology. There were some sugggestions to which the faculty responded with changes in the program's core curriculum for majors.

Sometimes an assessment's results led to suggestions for things that might be done differently in that particular class, such as putting more stress on integrated understanding of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, and biochemistry and genetics in a specific critical thinking course. In general, the evaluations indicate that most MCD-Biology seniors assessed are achieving the desired levels of the knowledge and skills evaluated each year. In addition, the exercises have frequently been very useful teaching tools in the classes where they were used.

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Last revision 02/06/03


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