Published: April 10, 2015
Prof. Jennifer Knight

The W. M. Keck Foundation has awarded a $300,000 grant to CU-Boulder School of Education Professor Derek Briggs and CU Denver School of Education & Human Development Professor Bud Talbot, and CU-Boulder Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) Instructor Jenny Knight to study the usefulness of popular “concept inventories” as assessments of undergraduate student learning.

“Concept inventories are used to assess students’ understanding of big picture ideas in the sciences, mathematics and engineering,” Talbot explained. “Research on these inventories, specifically their validity, has not kept pace with the rapid growth of their use in the STEM fields. This grant affords us the opportunity to conduct systematic and timely work using an existing high quality concept inventory from a very important field within STEM‐Genetics.”

This project will examine the relationship between student performance on the Genetics Concept Assessment‐a rigorously developed concept inventory‐relative to performance on newly developed open-response items and to instructor-developed final exams.

“This is a unique opportunity for biologists to collaborate with education specialists to scrutinize what different kinds of assessments can tell us about student learning,” Knight said. “Biology professors are on the brink of major changes in how introductory students are taught. These kinds of projects help bring faculty from different disciplines together to ultimately improve undergraduate student learning.”

The project will be conducted through the Center for Assessment, Design, Research, and Evaluation (CADRE), directed by Professor Briggs and housed in the School of Education.

“This study of concept inventories provides a unique opportunity to find out how well professors are able to capture evidence of student learning when they write a final exam. We’re going to be doing a lot of work to figure out if there are important principles to follow when writing assessments that provide rich information about a student’s depth of conceptual understanding,” Briggs said.

Through this 2-year project, Briggs, Talbot and Knight aim to help instructors think about the quality of their assessment items and to inform the development and validation of new concept inventories across all disciplines.