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My journey: from lofty course goals and vague questions to a small start on producing measurable objectives and aligned assessments.

From the list of course goals on my current syllabus: 

To build a molecular and evolutionary foundation for the study of life at all levels

Generated five learning objectives under this course goal.  Objectives followed a hierarchy from LOCS of defining genetic variation and differentiating different types of variation (Objective #1) up to HOCS of recognizing evolution as a unifying principle and applying it to a variety of biological problems (Objective #5).

Focusing on objective #4:

 

Students will understand that evolution requires both genetic variation and environmental selection and be able to describe the underlying mechanisms at the cellular level

 

Summative Assessment (Exam Items): 

Did my midterm adequately assess this learning objective?  NO!  Too few questions measuring this objective and too many opportunities for misinterpretation.

 

Original Q:

In what ways can mutations be considered 'good' or 'bad'?  (Bloom's HOCs, especially synthesis)

 

Problem:

A high performance level answer connects understanding of mutation at the molecular level with gene expression and the interplay between that and the environment, but students may misinterpret the question and not give a full answer even if they do understand it. 

 

Solution: (with thanks to Jay and Janet) 

Clarify a little more without delineating exactly what they need to cover, because that synthesis is the whole point.


Modified Q:  

Using concrete examples and including molecular level detail, explain how you would determine whether a mutation is 'good' or 'bad' for a single-celled organism. 

Additional Q: (same style and level)  

Gene X encodes a bacterial membrane protein that transports a wide range of small peptides across the cell membrane.  A deletion mutation in gene X leads to a nonfunctional transporter.  Describe scenarios in which this mutation would be

a)      deleterious to the mutant bacteria  

b)     advantageous to the mutant bacteria  

c)      neutral 

 

      Additional Q: (T/F style, lower level: Bloom’s 2-3) Because it changes an amino acid in the protein product, a missense mutation in a gene will always be deleterious to the organism.  T/F


Additional Q: (multiple choice style, Bloom's 2-3) 

A mutation in a protein-coding gene could have which of the following effects?  

a) increased viability of the cell  

b) altered sequence of the protein product  

c) altered expression of the gene

d) all of the above

e) only b and c

  

Formative Assessments

1) Steal the Darwin at the Olympics exercise!

2) Use Concept Maps -

Start with in-class activity: directed map of specific application, e.g., antibiotic resistance, asking students to make appropriate connections and write descriptors and then compare their maps.

Drug Resistance v2.jpeg 

 Give additional concept map homework assignments in which students illustrate the interplay of causes and cellular consequences of genetic variation and environmental selection in the evolutionary process.

 

3) Where's Chuck?  A nerdy version of Where's Waldo, but instead of finding Waldo's picture, groups of students try to find the spirit of Charles Darwin in any given biological scenario, e.g.

 

a) Why do you need to get a flu shot every year?

 

b) Why do some tumors stop responding to chemotherapy agents?

 

c) Why are people concerned that salmon genetically engineered to overproduce growth hormone might be a threat to the wild salmon fishery?

 

Students need to determine how evolution is involved in the scenario and what the relevant genetic variation and environmental selection factors might be. 

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