2009 Focus Group - Natural Science
Some questions from the original questionnaire weren't used because the responses were integrated in earlier discussion. Below are the specific questions they answered and brief summary of the original report.
General Impressions of General-Education Requirements (GER)
What are the benefits of general-education requirements in preparing YSU students to be productive and responsible citizens?
Before the "new" GER was instituted, there was no structure, and students took whatever courses fit their schedules and interests, but they did have far more choice than they do now. The faculty thought that GER provides a common body of knowledge, different ways of knowing; science is pivotal to helping students to think critically and manage evidence.
What are the challenges of the GER in preparing YSU students to be productive and responsible citizens?
Many students are unprepared to take science courses because of poor critical-thinking and analytic skills. High school is not preparing students for science. Students gravitate to courses they think will be easier and are surprised when they find themselves having to study hard. They say that students believe that memorizing constitutes science; they have to un-teach what the students "know" to get them progressing. Students are not active learners when they begin at YSU but are capable of learning.
Some science departments are facing severe problems in equipment and materials. Without proper labs and support, it's not possible to teach effectively. In science courses, students learn by doing. Unlike literature courses, science courses need strong financial support.
Specific Questions about Natural Science Courses
YSU students should demonstrate an understanding of the natural environment and the processes that shape it. How well do you think the courses that you teach help students to do so?
The courses do this well, but half of the students do poorly anyway. Students begin with serious misconceptions about science (weather is meteorology) that impede their learning.
Science faculty are as explicit as possible about what's expected and the best ways to study. Some mentioned that YSU's open-admissions status means that some incoming students cannot succeed; some students simply do not know how to succeed in college: how to study, to attend class regularly, to ask questions or seek help.
They expressed concern about education majors who seemed to think that education will be easy.
What challenges are you facing in the courses that you teach to meet the learning outcome of demonstrating an understanding of the natural environment and the processes that shape it?
The media misrepresent so many aspects of science that it takes substantial time and effort to counteract the erroneous "facts." They felt that students should study, attend class, and prepare for exams. Students don't seem to understand how to read and process material. Students also believe that general-education classes are easy and less important than courses in their majors, so they give them less time. Students expect entertainment, not education.
A sub-goal for the natural science domain is for students to understand the scientific method. How well do you think that courses that you teach help the students to do so?
Initially, they said they don't teach the scientific method, but then it became clear that they do: they have students solve problems, analyze situations and evidence. Although the scientific method is specifically mentioned by the GER, they can't teach it explicitly or students would flee from the courses.
Another sub-goal for the natural science domain is for students to understand the interrelationship among science, technology, and society. How well do you think that courses that you teach help the students to do so?
The faculty thought that they were particularly strong in this area. They know that they're working with non-science majors, and most of what they teach focuses on general-audience experiences with science in action.
What challenges are there to assessing being able to use natural science for problem solving and decision making as a learning outcome for YSU students?
The faculty asked that the GEC define the outcomes more clearly. They intensely dislike the paperwork required to get general-education certification. They are not sure how to assess learning outcomes and would like more guidance. They were not sure how an e-portfolio would help them to assess their courses.
Are there any general comments that you would like to share with the GEC about natural science courses?
They asked for more workshops on assessment, and they suggested simplifying the GER (thirteen goals is too many). The current system of reporting and assessment doesn't work, but they're not sure how to improve it. They had many questions related to the Higher Learning Council's site visit report and asked for access to it.