Student Achievement Assessment Committee
At the completion of baccalaureate degree studies in Psychology, students will:
- Exhibit broad knowledge about human behavior from a variety of psychological perspectives (e.g., biological, cognitive, developmental, social).
- Have the necessary skills in research and other forms of inquiry in order to develop new knowledge about behavior.
- Be able to communicate their knowledge of psychology to others.
- Have the necessary skills and content knowledge to be an informed and critical consumer of existing knowledge.
- Be prepared for post-baccalaureate studies in psychology or related disciplines, or for entering the workforce in areas related to their training.
1. Learning (or Service) Outcomes assessed this year:
The primary assessment activity that was initiated during 2003-04 was a follow-up to last year’s across-the-curriculum assessment of student learning outcomes, or rather, students’ perceptions of what they learned in various courses. This last point is important: the instrument that we have used over the past several years asks students to evaluate, say, the extent to which they developed a better understanding of themselves and others. Although some courses were rated more highly than others along this dimension (e.g., personality theory vs. statistics), what is lost by using this procedure is some sort of extended record of what is learned when. That is, a first-year student taking an introductory psychology class (PSYC 101) -- which typically devote a lecture or two to statistics -- may indicate that she has learned a great deal about statistics. If her first exposure to statistics was in PSYC 101, her rating is appropriate. A senior taking our advanced statistics course might also indicate that she has learned a great deal about statistics, as she undoubtedly has, but her level of knowledge would far exceed that of our first-year student although the ratings of how much they learned might be identical. This year’s assessment goal was to begin to develop a better sense for what students are learning as psychology majors.
2. Assessment Methods and Procedures:
In the past, our assessment efforts were largely quantitative, with analyses of responses to the Assessment of Student Learning taking center stage. This year we undertook a qualitative approach to assess student perceptions of how well we have met our student learning outcomes and what factors contributed most to this learning.
To ascertain what students perceive they are learning in the Psychology program as a whole, two focus groups were held with graduating psychology majors. These groups were held during the first week of May, 2004. A randomly selected subset of students was invited by e-mail to participate. Eleven students participated in the one hour discussions. Students were asked a variety of questions pertaining to their experiences as Psychology majors at BGSU including:
• What are your post-graduation plans?
• How has your experience been as a psychology major at BGSU?
• Were you involved in research with a faculty member, say, as an independent study or Honors project? What did you get out of this experience?
• What have you learned as a psych major at BG?
• What did you not get a chance to learn from your psychology classes that you would have liked to learn?
• How prepared do you feel by your psych classes for your job/grad school?
• How well do you think your psych classes integrated with one another to form a cumulative curriculum? How well do you think your psych classes integrated with what you learned in other departments in the University?
• What do you see as the Psychology Department’s biggest strength?
• If you could change anything about the psychology department at Bowling Green, what would it be?
Responses were transcribed during the session and key themes for each item are described below.
Of the 11 graduating seniors who were interviewed, eight were planning to go to graduate school (four immediately, six in psychology). This suggests that the sample of students who agreed to participate may have been especially active and motivated in college and in the Psychology Department, and that some of their responses might not generalize to other students.
Overall experience as a Psychology Major
There was wide agreement that the experience of being a Psychology major at BGSU was a positive one. Students remarked on the challenging nature of the program and that students can get a lot out of the major if they are willing to put a lot into it.
Research with faculty members
Those who had done research with faculty members (n = 7; many on multiple projects) agreed unanimously that it was an enormously positive experience; in fact many cited it as the best learning experience they had encountered at BGSU. It was widely agreed upon that students had to make an effort to actively seek out research opportunities. Some students expressed a concern that faculty members are not always open to working with particular students, especially if their background is weak or their GPA is low.
What they have and have not learned as a Psychology Major at BGSU
Some common themes of what they have learned included critical thinking skills including how to be skeptical of data, a better understanding of people and how people react to situations and environments, and applied information that is useful in everyday life and in career goals.
Some mentioned that they would like to have acquired a stronger background in statistics, but none of the students present had taken the upper level statistics course (PSYC 370) that is offered. They also would have liked to gain more “hands-on” experience working with clinical populations. Some suggested that a course on Psychology and diversity or minority groups would be very valuable to them.
Preparation for graduate school and jobs
In general, students felt well prepared by the Psychology major. They felt that class projects that went beyond the textbook and classroom, research experiences, and lab courses were the best preparation for their futures. Some students felt that it would be helpful if there were a course that would directly teach them about how to use the information they had gained for their futures. Suggestions for this course took many forms including: a course offered Junior year about graduate school, careers in Psychology, taking the GRE’s etc; a “capstone” course offered Senior year to provide a framework for the information learned in other courses; and a summer research institute where students could do research, take GRE preparation courses, and so on. They also felt that this information could be conveyed in other required courses (statistics, lab courses), via e-mail or via a bulletin board near the undergraduate advising office.
Responses about how well Psychology classes integrated with one another and with other courses at the University were mixed. Some felt that Psychology classes connected well with many of the other courses they took, whereas others felt that they did not use the information learned in each Psychology class in any other class. Several mentioned the value of advanced electives such as Evolutionary Psychology and others in integrating the material they had learned across many classes.
Strengths and weaknesses of the Psychology Department
There was wide agreement that the best thing that this department has to offer is the people in it, including both faculty and staff. Students feel that the faculty and staff are knowledgeable, friendly, accessible, and concerned about student success.
Consistent with findings stated above, students felt that the greatest weaknesses are insufficient research opportunities and insufficient information about career and graduate school planning. This concern, however, was in contrast to the fact that 64% of those interviewed had done research with faculty (several had done multiple projects with many different faculty members) and that 73% had immediate or delayed plans to attend graduate school.
3. Inferences from Assessment
One of the most interesting findings to emerge from these discussions was the value that students put on their junior-level lab courses, two of which are required for the major. We had anticipated that students would have preferred to have taken only one junior-level lab given the informal complaints received from both students and instructors that the current requirement – a research methods course followed by the two junior-level labs -- was too much. Not surprisingly, the students also placed great value in whatever research experiences they may have had outside of formal classes (e.g., independent studies, Honors projects). There were some concerns about the accessibility of research opportunities and the openness of faculty to work with some students. We feel, and the students agreed, that a certain amount of student initiative to seek out research opportunities is important, and that while we don’t want to leave out any motivated students, it is legitimate for faculty members to give more opportunities to students who have distinguished themselves in their coursework.
The mixed responses on the integration across the curriculum were consistent with the relatively low rankings students have given Psychology classes on the Integration dimension of the Assessment of Student Learning instrument. As discussed in previous reports, it is possible that this is because students perceive many of the skills taught in Psychology classes to be unique to this field.
One general observation that was made was that the things some students were asking for were already in place (opportunities to do research, information about graduate schools, more statistics courses, etc.) but are underutilized resources. This may suggest that wider dissemination of information in user-friendly formats is necessary to insure that students are taking advantage of the available resources.
4. Actions Taken/Program Improvements
Consistent with the finding that students value research opportunities highly, we have made some changes to increase the accessibility of these opportunities and to give faculty members more incentive to involve undergraduates in research. First, we are making efforts to make the guidelines for honors in Psychology clearer in the Undergraduate Handbook, and will publicize this option more widely (to both students and faculty) in coming years. Second, we have modified our Undergraduate Assistantship program in two ways. We have added a requirement that students determine a faculty member with whom to work and a project on which to collaborate prior to applying for the fellowship. This will help insure that the assistantship year is a productive and beneficial one. Also, we have allocated part of the undergraduate assistantship budget to go into the research accounts of faculty members who supervise these undergraduate students. This incentive should help encourage faculty members to seek out promising undergraduates to assist with research and to apply for these assistantship positions.
To attempt to meet the desires of students to have information delivered to them rather than them having to seek it out, we are going to implement some changes. First, we are planning a bulletin board outside of the advising office that will include information on: a Psychology major timeline, taking the GRE’s, getting involved in research, applying to Graduate Schools, etc. Second, we will be increasing the use of both Blackboard and e-mail as ways to share information with Psychology Majors about opportunities, deadlines, etc.
Finally, as we prepare to introduce changes to the undergraduate curriculum, we will heed the advice provided to us by this small (and likely unrepresentative) group of majors. For example, we hope to incorporate more fully into our curriculum upper-level courses in which information is integrated across other courses, particularly those within a given sub-field of psychology. In addition, given the value placed on the two required junior-level lab courses, we hope to introduce new lab courses that will reflect the breadth of psychological inquiry. We also hope to introduce prerequisites for these lab courses so that the primary focus can be on inquiry rather than the learning of content necessary to engage in meaningful inquiry. With a commitment to establishing a curriculum where knowledge and skills are accumulated, future assessments may be able to take advantage of learning outcome matrices such as those already incorporated in the Epsilen electronic portfolio environment.