Using Student Reflections to Assess Attainment of Objectives in a Problem-Based Learning Class

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Conference Proceeding

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EES 346: Earth Systems is a face-to-face class for pre-service teachers at Wright State University that uses problem-based learning assessed with rubrics from the online courses developed by the Earth System Science Education Alliance. The instructor’s objectives, according to the syllabus, are to enhance students’ content knowledge, systems thinking ability, professional skills, and writing ability. As these are higher-level skills, student progress can be difficult to assess.

Each student is expected to complete a reflection on what they have learned in EES 346 as their final assignment. 61 of these reflections were examined for evidence of progress with respect to the instructor’s objectives.

Few reflections addressed all of the objectives. Most mentioned or described specific content gains. Few described systems thinking, but many included specific examples of detailed cause-and-effect explanations of how events affect different parts of the Earth system. There were strong correlations among objectives addressed by the students, and it was possible to group the reflections statistically using principal component analysis. However, the groupings were not predicted by gender, initial score on the first challenging individual assignment, or section of the course.

Based on this study, we conclude that the instructor’s objectives are not only achieved, but largely shared by the sections as a whole. However, individual students may not address certain objectives in their reflections because they do not currently value them, because they are not ready to recognize them, or because they were not ready to make progress with respect to them at the time that they took EES 346.


Presented at the 2010 Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, Denver, CO.

Paper Number 248-20.

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