Biology (BIO)

The Biology Department offers BA and BS degrees in Biology.

Educational Goal

The goals of the Biology curriculum include providing an introduction to scientific approaches and methodologies, a grounding in some basic concepts and discoveries, an exposure to the diversity of living things and the development of an appreciation for both the excitement and curiosity that stimulate continued exploration in biology. We provide our students with the opportunity to explore the science of life by integrating research into the traditional liberal arts education. We seek to advance the understanding of biology through research, creative scholarship and graduate education. We are committed to nurturing the intellectual growth of undergraduate and graduate students so that they are prepared to serve as leaders in their chosen careers.

Learning Outcomes for Students in Biology

Biological studies are an integral part of the liberal arts curriculum. Biology provides a unique understanding of the human condition and our relationship to the natural world and its problems. It also, like the other sciences, demands a special kind of intellectual discipline, an awareness of the rapidly advancing array of ideas and approaches, and a sense of interdependence of knowledge.

For Biology majors, the Biology core curriculum is designed to provide students with an integrated overview of important approaches and accomplishments in all levels of biological inquiry from molecular biology to the biosphere. After completion of the core curriculum, students should have a well-rounded understanding of biology as a discipline. They should also be prepared to engage in study of a particular aspect of biology in greater depth by selecting, with the guidance of an advisor, a group of courses and programs which are of special interest to the student and which might meet his/her particular professional or occupational goals.

With leadership from its Undergraduate Studies Committee, the Department developed the following learning outcomes for students:

Biology Learning Outcome Courses that cover this LO How to assess
General learning outcomes for all students (majors and non-majors)
Students will be able to use the scientific method, including its strengths and limitations BIO 101, BIO 111, BIO 113, 114, 213, 214 Non majors –Use pre- post-test of directed reading with MC answers to access understanding of scientific method ORpre and post online survey assessment of scientific method understanding.Majors- administer Biology major field test in first week of lab I fall semester for BIO113/4 students. Do again as last activity in lab when take last core course (BIO213/214). Required to continue as a major.ORUse same pre- post survey assessment of scientific method understanding.
Students will know fundamental concepts and discoveries upon which modern biology is founded BIO 101, BIO 111, BIO 113, 114, 213, 214 Non majors –Students take the Biological Concepts Inventory as part of their final lecture exam.Majors- administer Biology major field test in first week of lab I fall semester for BIO113/4 students. Do again as last activity in lab when take last core course (BIO213/214).This course is required to continue as a major.
Students will learn about the diversity of living things BIO 101, BIO 111, BIO 113, 114, 213, 214 Non majors -Majors- administer Biology major field test after complete all 4 core courses – compare score with same students at beginning of core courses.
Students will develop both written and oral communication skills appropriate to biological discipline. BIO 101, BIO 111, BIO 113, 114, 213, 214 Non majors –Students submit their best laboratory report and/or oral presentation for semester as final assessment project.Majors- As part of major requirements, students assemble a personal portfolio containing up to 3 pieces of evidence to demonstrate their communication skills. These could include poster presentations at meetings, abstracts, papers for class
Learning outcomes specific to biology majors, both BA and BS
Students will have an integrated overview of important approaches and fundamental knowledge in molecular, cellular, organismal, evolutionary and ecological-based biology. BIO113, 114, 213, 214, Majors- administer Biology major field test after complete all 4 core courses – compare score with same students at beginning of core courses.
Students will be able to use and interpret modern laboratory and field techniques. All lab classes Lab practicals; Lab report grades; lab oral presentations
Learning outcomes specific to biology majors, BS only
Students will participate in research under the mentorship of faculty see this work summarized and/or publically presented BIO391-4, WFURF, publications, abstracts Percent of majors enrolled in BIO 391-4 (the undergraduate independent research courses), Percent of majors who participate in WFURF
Students who earn a BS will have the knowledge, preparation and skills necessary for careers in biological research and/or the health professions Upper division biology classes, BIO 391-4, co-requisites in math and physical sciences Survey of biology majors 2-5 years after graduation
Learning outcomes specific to biology majors, BA only
Students who earn a BA will have the knowledge, the preparation and skills necessary for a career in fields that have intersections with biological science (law, business, education) Upper division biology classes, co-requisites in math and physical sciences Survey of biology majors 2- 5 years after graduation

Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes

Beginning in Spring 2008, we evaluated biology content knowledge of all students taking our four core courses by administering the ETS’s major field test in Biology. Normally the MFT-B is used as an exit assessment for graduating seniors; we have used it to measure relative progress of student learning in various courses. We also tested seniors on a voluntary basis, and about half participated. In Fall 2008, we completed this evaluation process by administering the same test to all incoming freshmen taking BIO112 as their first college-level science course.

Scores for WFU students are compared to a national population of students (nearly all of them graduating seniors) taking the same exam at 255 other four-year institutions. Shaded boxes in the table below indicate the core course in which WFU students first achieved a subdiscipline score equal to or greater than the national average. Numbers in bold/italics indicate cohort scores that exceed the national average by one standard deviation or more.

 

Results of this assessment suggest that the Biology Department is educating its students very well through its core curriculum, with one area for improvement. Specifically:

  1. By the time students complete the first two years of required biology courses, their overall biological content knowledge already is equal to or greater than the national average in all nine sub-disciplines tested, as well as their analytical skills.
  2. Students continue to improve after completing the core courses. In 7 of the 9 areas tested, scores for graduating seniors increased by at least 5% over the highest scores achieved by students in core labs.
  3. Biology students perform at least one standard deviation better than the national average in eight of nine assessed areas. The department surveyed its graduate students to learn about the strengths and weakness of the program. Students unanimously gave the highest rating in all of the categories associated with the adviser and advising. Courses were also highly ranked.
  4. Subdiscipline scores for graduating seniors were greater than or equal to one standard deviation above the national average in all categories except biodiversity, so the department is focusing on improving this area. The department faculty committed to increasing coverage of biodiversity in BIO113 and finding more ways to incorporate it into its upper division offerings. The department will continue to monitor subdiscipline test scores, to be certain that the changes have had the expected effect.

The test ranks the department as slightly deficient in our range of graduate course offerings, as well as in opportunities to interact with students in other departments. This deficiency is a result of the demands required to teach a large and increasing number of undergraduate students. Although not solely a departmental activity, graduate students and the graduate director participated in two institution-wide surveys on graduate professional development needs, the first administered by former interim Dean of the Graduate School Cecilia Solano, and the second, administered by the Professional Development Advisory Committee. Results of these surveys indicated a widespread need and support for a variety of cross-disciplinary professional development activities, in particular grant writing, professional networking, teaching training, responsible conduct of research, and job-hunting skills. We have developed and offered courses that will become permanent components of our curriculum.