Pittsburg State University
Academic Department Assessment Program
Date: July 20, 2004
Department: Chemistry and Physics
Programs: B.S. Chemistry, B.S. Physics, B.S.Ed with majors in Chemistry,
Physics, or Physical Science
1. Mission Statements for Programs in the Physical Sciences:
Program Mission: Chemistry programs prepare students for careers in science, chemical
engineering, pharmacy, or chemistry teaching through Departmental degree programs,
pre-engineering, pre-pharmacy, teacher education, and other University programs that
require rigorous training in chemistry. Physics programs prepare students for careers in
science, technology, or science teaching through Departmental degree programs,
pre-engineering, teacher education, and other University programs that require rigorous
training in physics. All of these programs are systematically assessed for their
effectiveness and revised, when indicated, to continuously improve relevance and the
balance between rigor and scope. The faculty are also committed through processes of
regular assessment and revision to effective general education in the physical sciences
and to outreach to K-12 teachers of science in surrounding communities through the
Science Education Center.
Vision Statement: The faculty will strive to provide excellence in education that
conforms to the high standards recommended by the American Chemical Society to
students preparing for careers as scientists, chemists, engineers, technicians, educators,
forensic investigators, or in related roles, including stewardship of the environment,
promoting safety, critical thinking skills, communication, and good citizenship. At the
same time, our faculty and students will make significant contributions to professional
organizations, to the body of scientific knowledge, and to the region. To achieve this
vision of guiding and mentoring students, while contributing to technical advances, we
recognize the need for adequate facilities, modern instrumentation, and frequent, well
planned assessments in every phase of learning to improve or maintain student learning.
In the current economic climate, we also recognize that solicitation of outside funding is
especially critical for providing expensive laboratory equipment, supporting research
activities, and enabling travel for both professional development and reporting to our
colleagues in science.
2. Curricular Goals and Objectives:
Goal 1: To produce graduates that have the factual knowledge and thinking skills
necessary to construct a basic scientific understanding of material phenomena and
a thorough competency in chemistry or physics fundamentals.
Objective 1(a): Graduates receiving the baccalaureate degree in physics will
demonstrate a depth of understanding in the fundamental disciplines of physics:
mechanics, electromagnetism, thermal-statistical physics, optics, and quantum
mechanics. Those in chemistry will demonstrate a depth of understanding in the
fundamental disciplines of chemistry: organic, inorganic, analytical, physical, and
Objective 1(b): Chemistry and physics baccalaureates will demonstrate an
understanding of diverse physical and chemical phenomena in terms of
fundamental concepts and will be able to apply their knowledge of math,
chemistry, and physics to identify, formulate, and solve problems in these and
Objective 1(c): Chemistry and physics baccalaureates will be able to design and
implement an experiment or theoretical study to understand a physical
Objective 1(d): Chemistry and physics baccalaureates will be able to apply
scientific understanding and models of thinking in physics or chemical contexts.
Goal 2: All chemistry and physics graduates must have the ability to communicate
Objective 2(a): Chemistry and physics baccalaureates will be able to write a
well-organized, logical, scientifically sound research paper or scientific report.
Objective 2(b): Chemistry and physics baccalaureates will be able to present
effectively a well-organized, logical, scientifically sound, and
audience-appropriate oral report on a scientific topic.
Objective 2(c): Chemistry and physics baccalaureates will be able to
communicate and present information electronically, including the appropriate
use of multimedia modes of communication.
Goal 3: Throughout their careers, chemistry and physics majors should be able to
function effectively in society.
Objective 3(a): Chemistry and physics baccalaureates will be able to work
effectively in teams and exercise leadership at appropriate times in their careers.
Objective 3(b): Chemistry and physics baccalaureates will understand and
appreciate the human dimensions of their profession, including the diverse social,
cultural, economic and international aspects of their professional activities.
Objective 3(c): Chemistry and physics baccalaureates will demonstrate high
standards of ethics and professional integrity in the conduct of their professional
Goal 4: Chemistry and physics majors will enjoy an efficient learning experience, well
planned and adjusted to their needs, interests, and career objectives.
Objective 4(a): Support services and academic advisement will enable students
to be smart consumers of what the university offers, to help them make wise
choices of courses, majors fields, and minors, to plan their programs and course
schedules effectively, and to optimize their overall campus experience, while
limiting costs and semesters of enrollment.
Objective 4(b): Faculty will serve as effective mentors of advisees assigned to
them, leading by example, while demonstrating empathy, caring, and high ethical
3. Assessment Techniques
Goal Capstone Alumni Advisement Student Exit Standard Dept. CPS Independent
Courses Surveys Surveys Surveys Interview Field Tests Transmitters Research
1 X X X X X X X X
2 X X X X
3 X X X X
4 X X X
The assessment instruments that have had the greatest effect on Chemistry and Physics
programs include both annual and special purpose surveys (graduates and teachers post-
practicum), tracking of graduate career progress, and nationally normed content
instruments (GRE Physics Achievement, American Chemical Society subject matter
tests, ETS Major Field Achievement Test, and local physics tests, one calibrated to the
GRE PA test, the other used as a qualifying examination for M.S. candidates). In
addition, a variety of more focused evaluations based on surveys and tests have been used
to assess general education classes and such things as inquiry based instruction,
laboratory formats, classes structured for the "writing to learn" initiative, and the value of
daily quizzes instead of homework credit.
In 2003, we had one graduating senior in physics complete the ETS Major Field
Achievement Test in Physics. Two more took the exam in Spring of 2004. We will
probably phase out the Department Exam, which the ETS will replace. We also have four
Physics graduate students who will take the M.S. Qualifying Exam in August. Chemistry
had a total of 10 undergraduates complete the capstone ACS exams, and 8 M.S.
candidates completed the Comprehensive Reviews.
CAPSTONE COURSES AND CONTENT TESTS
The format of two of the capstone courses in Chemistry, CHEM 601 Chemistry
Colloquium and CHEM 801 Graduate Chemistry Colloquium, is that they meet
concurrently every semester, and all majors, both undergraduate and graduate, are
required to attend and present both an oral and written report each semester. This
requirement addresses Goals 2 and 3. During the last semester period, seniors are
required to take the appropriate American Chemical Society comprehensive program test
(nationally normed and standardized). Graduate students are similarly tested during
CHEM 895 Comprehensive Reviews in Chemistry.
In Physics, attendance at weekly colloquia is optional, except for a freshman class, PHYS
102 What's New in Physics Research, which requires beginning majors to present their
first oral and written presentations. This course has been required of all new Physics and
B.S. Ed. in Physics majors for about eight years. A section was opened in Fall 2003 and
will be offered again in Fall 2004. In the senior year, these same majors are now required
to take PHYS 691 Senior Research Project and PHYS 699 Senior Review and
Assessment, both of which require oral and written presentations, again addressing Goals
2 and 3. These will continue to be offered in the Spring semester of each year.
In addition, students in PHYS 699 have completed the locally designed achievement test,
which was roughly calibrated to the GRE Physics Achievement Test. They also take the
GRE itself, if possible during the semester, depending on the student's plans for further
education. The GRE is required for admission to graduate school.
We will continue giving all senior physics majors the ETS Major Field Achievement Test
in Physics, possibly to replace the other two tests, on the grounds that it is less expensive
in both cost (of the GRE) and time for evaluating, yet more reliable, because all students
will take it, not just those planning to seek a graduate degree. We would like to give a
similar test for the B.S. Ed. in Physical Science, but there is no MFAT for that area, yet.
The test in Physics which we have been using the longest, about 16 years, is an internally
designed pre-/post-test which has gradually been compared with the nationally-normed
GRE Physics Achievement Test for about half of the students tested. The local test
consists primarily of short problems in each of the major concept areas of the
undergraduate core cores and was at first given to all students at the beginning of the first
introductory college and engineering physics classes to assess knowledge prior to our
program. Since very low scores (typically less than 10%) were consistent in pre-program
testing, we only occasionally test incoming classes now. The lowest any of our graduates
has scored on the post-test is 85%, and scores on the post-test correlate well with grade-
point averages in the core courses, verifying that unit tests and laboratory reports within
the core classes are also serving effectively in evaluating course and instructor
Our success with this in-house assessment instrument had prompted interest in
neighboring schools. So far, East Central Oklahoma University's Department of Physics
has adopted our current examination for evaluating their program. We will continue
pooling of assessment results for a better statistical base, as we phase this test out of use
and replace it with the MFAT.
Those seeking a B.S. Ed. in either Physics or Physical Science are also required to
complete PHYS 569 Laboratory Assistant Practicum, which requires them to practice
planning, making weekly presentations, managing laboratory class time, and grading
laboratory reports for one of our introductory laboratory classes. They are evaluated by
both their students and a faculty supervisor, which address all three curricular goals, but
primarily Goals 2 and 3.
Our alumni surveys fall into two categories, occasional special survey instruments, which
span many details of a graduate's career, and annual surveys, which really just invite
evaluative input and ask more general questions. The longer special surveys are difficult
to manage and cost more in both time and postage. They also seem to produce very
nearly the same information as the annual surveys.
We completed a special survey of recent (<5 years post graduation) alumni in Physics
early in 2004. The previous survey was in 1993. Results from the 75% responding were
very similar with very positive indications in most areas with two exceptions. Several
respondents marked us down in availability of equipment and in research opportunities,
meaning that there were not enough funded research projects, that faculty needed to bring
in more grant money for both equipment and student employment. This is a serious issue,
which was discussed at length by both departments, since a major American Physical
Society investigation this last year concluded that enrollment in physics was directly tied
to research opportunities within the department.
The annual survey in 2003 was separately attached to both Chemistry and Physics
newsletters. Since the two departments are in the process of merging administratively, the
survey sent out in 2004 will request information on both programs. Chemistry’s annual
survey resulted in a total of nine responses, all very positive. One was from a 90 year old
graduate from the class of 1936, who praised the teaching and leadership skills of Profs.
Yates and Heckert, among others in the program then.
In another form of survey, department faculty telephone alumni as part of the PSU
Foundation's annual "Phonathon" to raise scholarship money. Although a less formal
approach to surveying alumni opinions, it is often much more detailed, because faculty
can follow up with questions about specific topics. Using this method, we continue to
track 298 graduated physics majors and 550 chemistry graduates. Roughly 15% have
stayed in this area and are employed here. Many of the remainder are teachers in Kansas
or neighboring states or have gone on to complete their Ph.D. at other institutions. We
are usually able to contact about half of these graduates by telephone during the fund
In response to a major Regents' initiative to improve academic advisement over the last
five years, we developed and used two instruments for assessing and improving the
effectiveness of faculty performance in this area. The first was a simple feedback survey
that all students were requested to fill out immediately after their early enrollment or
initial advisement session is completed. This has now been discontinued in favor of a
campus wide advisement survey web page. About a dozen students responded out of
both departments with very favorable results.
The second instrument is a checklist for advisors to use during the advisement session.
The checklists not only help to prompt useful questions and encourage productive
discussions, they serve as a record of what was covered in each session. This helps
advisors recognize when student goals or interests have changed significantly. This often
seems to happen with students who are surprised at the difficulty of one course or
another, sometimes even prompting a change of major.
STUDENT SURVEYS AND EXIT INTERVIEWS
Our primary survey instrument for students covering classroom instruction is the Wichita
State SPTE (Student Perceptions of Teacher Effectiveness), which is used by all faculty,
for at least their own professional development, and offered by most as evidence of
teaching effectiveness in our annual performance reports. The SPTE includes both an
optical scan portion (for multivariate analysis) and a short answer sheet. The latter often
includes some constructive criticism and useful suggestions. Just as often, however, the
SPTE serves mainly as a barometer of how students reacted to class policies on quizzes
However, this is also useful information, so both Chemistry and Physics programs tend to
value its quantitative properties, even though the instrument is biased against the physical
sciences by comparing them with biology responses. Since this instrument is used by all
departments by campus policy, and it will soon be replaced or supplemented by a locally
developed instrument, I will not give a detailed description here.
Exit interviews have been conducted informally for years with students in the capstone
courses and colloquia. However, we have realized a need for systematic recording of
these results, even if they simply confirm expectations. Consequently, we are preparing a
list of questions and guidelines for interviewing to be used with all seniors and graduate
students to be implemented later this year.
Large lecture classes in both chemistry and physics programs have continued using the
Classroom Performance System (CPS) to enhance feedback and evaluation in the lecture
format. In CPS, each student uses a small handheld transmitters to respond to questions
or prompts posed by the instructor. The computer instantly shows the distribution of
responses, allowing the instructor to decide whether that particular topic needs more
explanation. The system is also ideal for speeding up tests, since results are automatically
graded and recorded during the test. Results have been presented by three different
instructors at a number of professional meetings.
INDEPENDENT RESEARCH AND PRACTICE TEACHING COURSES
In addition to the capstone and symposia courses, which require students to demonstrate
some degree of mastery over program content (Goal 1) and presentation skills (Goal 2),
both chemistry and physics programs have elective courses in independent research that
require the student to function more or less autonomously in a laboratory environment,
with minimal supervision, and also requiring written and oral presentations. These
include CHEM 699 Senior Research in Chemistry and PHYS 591 Physics Projects. Such
independent research effectively tests aspects of Goals 1, 2, and 3.
For students seeking the B.S. Ed., we have the supervised student teaching and follow up
courses, CHEM 579 and PHYS 579. As with the independent research, these courses
require detailed faculty evaluation which effectively assesses the rest of the
undergraduate program in Goals 1, 2, and 3. In the past, feedback from these practicum
semesters has resulted in major changes in program requirements, but no changes were
implemented this year.
4. Assessment results by technique
Assessment results were described above with each technique.
5. Curricular Changes Due to Assessment Results
These resulted in no major curricular changes this year except those related to General
Education requirements, which will involve the creation of several new laboratory classes
and the restructuring of some of the lectures to meet specific General Education goals.