The NEXUS project’s four partner institutions are working together to ensure they meet common goals and that the course modules are designed and measured in a unified way. The biggest challenge may come as these four schools begin assessing what students are learning.
Using competencies to describe what students should know is becoming more common in science education, but educators still grapple with how best to define and measure the depth of knowledge undergraduates must possess in order to demonstrate competence in a given area.
In 2009, the Association of American Medical Colleges and HHMI convened a group of scientists, physicians and science educators from diverse U.S. institutions to examine the training that a graduating physician needs for 21st century science-based medical practice. Their report, Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians, recommends a competency-based approach to teaching premedical students and lays out eight competencies in the sciences that undergraduates should know before medical school. The report suggests that a competency-based approach will enable more flexibility in premedical curricula and encourage better integration of learning across science disciplines. That report is one of the cornerstones of the NEXUS project.
The NEXUS assessment team will try to move beyond testing students’ knowledge of facts to assessing their ability to demonstrate that they understand and can apply what they have learned. For example, faculty at the University of Miami are building case studies that they will use to assess how well students apply basic biological, chemical, or physical concepts to a new situation: interpreting medical data about a patient.
HHMI has retained David Hanauer, an evaluation specialist at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, to help NEXUS faculty figure out what will work best on their campuses. What the NEXUS group learns will help the larger community understand how to implement competency-based curriculum.
Each institution has assembled a faculty team charged with designing and implementing an assessment plan on their campus. While each plan will be tailored to the particular needs of the campus project, the four teams are coordinating their approaches based on a shared understanding of how student competencies can be measured. To facilitate the sharing of expertise among the four campuses, NEXUS has designed a Global Assessment Committee made up of representatives from each institutional partner.
Meet our Advisor
David Hanauer is a professor in the English department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and an expert on the connection between literacy and science. Since 2005, he has worked with HHMI Professor Graham Hatfull of the University of Pittsburgh to qualitatively describe and assess the PHIRE (Phage Hunting Integrating Research and Education) program, which resulted in a publication in the journal Science and a forthcoming book, Active Assessment: Assessing Scientific Inquiry. He will be working with the NEXUS team to help coordinate the universities’ assessment work and develop their capacity to tackle competency-based assessment approaches.