2008 Teaching and Learning Symposium

2:30-4:30 p.m., May 6, 2008
HUB Ballroom

Session Description



Identifying curricular learning goals through qualitative research

Siri O. Nelson, Noelle Machnicki, Mary Pat Wenderoth, Alison Crowe - Biology

In a multi-track discipline such as Biology, identifying course-specific learning goals and relating them to overall departmental learning goals can be challenging. Many courses are content-specific and while content goals are usually well-defined, it can be difficult to identify course-specific skills emphasized by teaching faculty in individual courses. We used qualitative research methods to determine the following:

  • How individual course learning goals support departmental learning goals.
  • If students in a given track take courses that support departmental learning goals.
  • If departmental learning goals need refinement.
  • If there are any areas that are over- or under-emphasized in the Biology undergraduate curriculum.

With the assistance of the Office of Educational Assessment, we developed an interview framework designed to gather qualitative data on individual course content and learning goals. We conducted hour long one-on-one interviews with faculty about their courses and collected course syllabi. After transcribing interviews, we were able to identify course-specific content and skills and analyze them by using previously established departmental learning goals as out template.

We found that the curriculum supports departmental learning goals overall, but some learning goals are very highly represented while others are frequently underrepresented. We also discovered that the emphasis on certain skills shifts depending which track students take through the Biology major. In addition, we identified several skill sets that are emphasized by the faculty but were not previously recognized made recommendations to refine departmental learning goals.

Third party qualitative interviews on course content, skills, expectations, and assessment methods require a relatively small time commitment from teaching faculty but can provide a solid basis for examining how individual courses contribute to the overall departmental curricular strategy.



Index of Symposium Presenters