Assessing Students’ Abilities to Apply Concepts to Real-world Problems (School of Food Science)

Solving real-world problems in an industry setting is critical for professionals in the field of Food Science, so faculty in the School of Food Science want to know how well their students meet this goal before they graduate. The School, a joint program between Washington State University and the University of Idaho, recently selected four competencies required by their professional accrediting organization, the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), and they piloted a new process to assess student achievement in these areas. They gathered student scores from various course assignments and exam questions that aligned well with the competencies. The instructor for each course developed benchmarks. As an example, a benchmark might be that 85% of students should score at or above a certain point by the time they graduate in order for the program’s goal to be considered met. Students met some benchmarks and didn’t meet others. Analysis of one area of relative weakness indicated that students were capable of answering direct, specific questions but struggled with more open-ended questions that required application of multiple concepts simultaneously: a student may know that heat denatures whey proteins, for instance, but not be able to explain that the reason a film forms on the sides of a pot of milk being heated on a stove is due to whey proteins denaturing and sticking to the sides. 

Faculty will continue to assess problem solving abilities in students and explore ways to support the development of this skill across the curriculum. To help target their efforts, they were able to refer to their recently completed curriculum map, a matrix showing which courses teach to which of the student learning outcomes and at what level. “Curriculum mapping isn’t something you do once,” explained Helen Joyner, Assistant Professor in the School, “the content of the curriculum and the courses in the curriculum are going to change over time.  So the curriculum map should be treated like a ‘living document’ that is updated and assessed regularly to make sure that the curriculum is in alignment with the curriculum learning outcomes.  It should also be used to check for gaps and redundancies in competency coverage.” Using assessment results and their curriculum map, Food Science faculty can monitor quality, ensuring that the program is meeting student needs and that students are meeting the IFT competencies as required for accreditation.

ATL can help programs with curriculum mapping and with using existing assignments for program assessment: Contact an ATL assessment specialist.