I'm proud to be a scientist in this day and age. Preparing students to be evidence-based decision-makers is a hot topic in education, and we are experts at this process. However, we're not necessarily experts in how to help others, like students, achieve this goal! Thus, most professional conferences I attend as a professor or as a scientist have recently had workshops on essential topics like:
- assessment (how and what data do we gather that help us measure whether our students are learning the information and skills we intend)
- curricular design (learning outcomes, course goals, aligning these with professional standards, backward design…)
One of my genetics Course Goals:
"You should become comfortable with using facts and terminology to analyze data and to perform quantitative reasoning, decision-making, and critical thinking."
A related SLO from my genetics course:
"Make models to predict experimental outcomes; generate null hypotheses (expected results)"
Thus, backward design (e.g. Wiggins G, McTighe J. "Understanding by Design." Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development; 2005) emphasizes:
- keeping the endpoint (Goals and SLOs) in mind, then
- creating assessments that measure the SLOs, and finally
- designing exercises and lessons that help students practice and achieve the SLOs
In other (sometimes unsavory, depending on the company you keep) terms: backward design is teaching to the test.
My backward design alignment involves nine steps. Before I describe the first, I must introduce one more concept:
(Bloom, Benjamin S. "Taxonomy of Educational Objectives" Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA; 1956).
Faculty often hear about Bloom's taxonomy, as I did, in the context of writing assessments. Students should have a relatively easy time scoring well on exams that comprise mainly lower-level Bloom's questions requiring memorization and understanding (such items might include matching, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, and multiple-choice questions). We are often encouraged to incorporate higher-level Bloom's questions. My perspective is that this is beneficial for testing because it allows faculty to distinguish students with levels of understanding beyond rote memorization.
|Alignment of my custom five Bloom's levels with letter grades|
The first thing that happened after I decided to incorporate this alignment was that I realized I would have to revise my summative assessments (exams) so that I had questions for each of these Bloom's levels. At that point, I decided it would be equitable to have an equal number of points available on each exam for each of my five letter grades. In other words, my alignment of percent of points earned to letter grades became:
My framework for backward design incorporates this philosophy on grading: that letter grade should directly reflect student understanding and ability as defined by Bloom.
|Vision and Change|
- Molecular Genetics
- The Central Dogma
- Gene Expression Regulation
- Transmission Genetics
- Molecular Genetics: 17
- The Central Dogma: 10
- Gene Expression Regulation: 13
- Transmission Genetics: 15
- 1: 12
- 2: 12
- 3: 12
- 4: 11
- 5: 8