Assessment in the Geological Sciences

Assessment is at the forefront of initiatives taken by faculty in the Geological Sciences. All faculty strongly believe that assessment is required for growth and development, and to ensure our students keep current and competitive.

Student Learning Outcomes – Core course in Physical Geology

In the spring of 2006 the Geological Sciences Department established an assessment procedure for the introductory core course, GLS 100, Physical Geology. Knowledge gained from the assessment was used to develop a standard course curriculum map. Currently data are used to test pedagogical methods of presentation and track learning outcomes. The assessment instrument is a 50-question, content based, multiple-choice test. We have a Departmental Assessment Coordinator, and the whole department is avidly interested in and committed to assessment both as a concept and in practice. Data is collected from pre- and post-tests from approximately 180 students each semester. The test includes basic material from the following sections:

Part I - Earth Facts Questions 1-6 12%
 Part II – Seismology Questions 7-8 4
 Part III –Plate Tectonics Questions 9-16 16%
Part IV- Minerals Questions 17-24 18%
 Part V-Deformation Questions 25-32 16%
Part VI-Magma & Igneous Rocks Questions 33-36 8%
Part VII-Volcanic Activity Questions 37-39 6%
Part VIII-Surface Processes Questions 40-48 16%
Part IX-Earth History Questions 49-50% 4%
Feedback to the Department:
The established pattern is for the Assessment Coordinator to give a report about the previous semester’s test results to the department as part of the first meeting of each semester. Lively and productive discussions follow the distribution of the report leading to suggestions for pedagogical changes or innovations and/or changes/refinements to the questions. The most significant pedagogical are discussed here. In summary, the assessment instrument has evolved in several ways:
1. The content of the test is more focused (because we now have shared objectives)
2. In order to address the Quantitative designation of the course the departmental curriculum committee developed several higher-level analytical questions
3. The post test is given on the day of the class final in all classes
Knowledge gained from the assessment has transformed how we present and reinforce course content. A summary of earlier assessments show that material covered in the first half of the course was typically reinforced over the entire semester, but that the concepts students heard about in the second half of the semester were not. We agreed to take a spiral approach to the material covered later in the semester to try to improve on retention. The latest post-test results shown in Figure 1 show distinct improvement in this material.

The two graphs of question number versus % correct answers display post-test data from (a) 2006 and (b) fall 2009 assessments. The vertical line in graph (a) is a visual break between questions about material covered early in the semester and reinforced through the rest of the semester and questions about concepts covered later and not reinforced. Graph (b) produced from Fall 2009 post-test data may show the effects of taking a spiral learning approach, and more consistency in the timing of administration of the exam.

Core Related Questions:
 The tests of Spring 2008 were the first to include two core-goal related questions, which were given in the posttest. These questions based directly on the Philosophy of the Core from page 13 of the current SSU catalog are:
 51. T/F After taking this course I am more equipped to understand current events related to the Earth than I was before taking this course.
52. T/F After taking this course I am more knowledgeable about the ways in which geologists study the Earth and its processes.
Students strongly agreed that the course met the goals described. A typical result (including the non-responsive students) is 87% agreed with the statement of question 51; 90% agreed with question 52. A more detailed report of the assessment procedure, data and outcomes is available through the department.

Student Learning Outcomes – Geosciences Majors

 Currently there are no standardized tests used to track the learning outcomes of Geological Sciences majors through the program. To facilitate the movement of students through the program in four years the Department changed from a vertical to more horizontal curriculum structure. Because students now entering upper-level classes have varying backgrounds, testing would reflect which courses each student has taken rather than the learning outcome at a particular level. Instead we use the following criteria to evaluate student success.
 1. Performance in the capstone field methods course: The field methods course assesses the ability of students to apply their geology skills and class-taught knowledge in the field. Our upper-level field methods course is considered an internal, class-based internship for geological sciences students and is a requirement for most graduate schools.
2. Senior research: All students are required to complete a senior research project that entails collecting, analyzing and interpreting data. The project tests each student’s ability to accurately record data, research and interpret professional papers, draw sound conclusions, and write a professional paper.
Each Geological Sciences student is also required to present his/her research at a conference organized by a professional or honorary organization such as the Geological Society of America, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, or Sigma Xi.
3. Postgraduate success in entering graduate school and the workforce: Our department has an excellent post-graduate track record. Figure 2 shows data obtained from all  graduates on whom we have data. Nearly 60% of our graduates continued on to graduate school. Although the percentage fluctuates yearly it is steadily increasing. In 2010 all six graduate who applied to graduate school were accepted with full funding, either in the form of a teaching fellowship or research scholarship. The success of our students attests to the rigor and effectiveness of our program.
 Most of our graduates contribute to the rapidly growing field of environmental geology. Local environmental consulting firms hire our graduates who do not continue move on to graduate school or become teachers. Students who obtain graduate degrees typically enter the environmental field as hydrologist, geophysicist, engineers, research scientists, or supervisors with high-level positions. Some of our graduates have started their own consulting firms. The distribution of our graduates in the workforce is illustrated at different levels of detail in figures 3 and 4. The general distribution in figure 3 shows that 58% of our graduates are currently working as geologists, 17% are educators, 18 % are in fields outside the geosciences, and 6.4% are currently working on post-graduate degrees. Of those working as geologists or as geosciences educators the distribution is shown in figure 4;  60% work in the environmental field, 3% are research scientist, 6 % work in the petroleum and mining industry, 3% in the hazardous waste management, 15% teach middle school or high school earth science, and 9.2 % teach in higher education.
Even those graduates not working in the geosciences have benefited from the quantitate skills and knowledge obtained by their degree. They hold a wide range of positions that include financial account, librarian, lawyer, merchant in jewelry and gemstones, disc jockey, and farm owner and manager to name a few.

Faculty Research and Scholarship

The positive outcome of our students in the workforce and in graduate school is made possible because all faculty In the Department are active in the field and provide opportunities for student research and scholarship. Below are listed the full-time faculty with a brief biography of their research interests, accomplishments and contributions. Currently all faculty are directing students in either undergraduate or graduate research.

Doug Allen

 Ph.D., September 2003, Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN Dr Allen’s research interests involve geochemical processes in low and high temperature environments with a focus on rock-water interaction.  He is currently working on environmental science research associated with toxic metal inventories in soils, sediments and waters of the North Shore using x-ray fluorescent spectroscopy.  Dr Allen has also established a sea –level monitoring station in Salem, MA in collaboration with the National Park Service. He is a research fellow at the Department of Energy-National Energy Technology Lab in Pittsburgh, PA where he conducts research on greenhouse gas mitigation strategies such as carbon sequestration in geologic formations, advanced carbon/sulfur/nitrogen capture techniques, and recycling of industrial waste.

James Cullen

 Ph.D., Geological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, RI, 1983. James Cullen is a marine geologist with interests focus on paleoecology, paleoclimatology, and paleoceanography, dissolution of deep-sea carbonates. application of multivariate statistical techniques to paleontologic and stratigraphic data, Plankton evolution, and Cenozoic deep-sea stratigraphy. He has participated in several Ocean Drilling expeditions and authored or co-authored numerous papers and abstracts about climate variability as recorded in marine sediments.
Lindley Hanson
 Ph.D.  Geology, Boston University; Boston, MA. 1988. Dr. Hanson fields or interests include regional geology and geomorphology. She is a member of Sigma Xi, the Coastal Research Group, and a fellow of the Geological Society of America. Dr. Hanson is a long-standing participant and organizer of the New England Intercollegiate Geologic Conference, and a more recent participant of the Friends of the Pleistocene. During her tenure at Salem State she has published numerous papers on the geomorphology, and bedrock and surficial geology of Maine, where she spent 15 summers mapping for the Maine Geological Survey and co-directing field camp for Boston University. Currently Dr. Hanson is the Coordinator of the MAT in Middle School General Science program where she guides graduate student research in science education.
Brad Hubeny
Ph.D., Geological Oceanography, July 2006, Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI Dr. Hubeny is an environmental geoscientist who uses sediment records preserved at the bottom of lakes and estuaries to reconstruct past environmental and climatic conditions.  He is interested high-resolution records of climate variability during the Late Holocene and in pollution reconstructions (heavy metals, eutrophication) from industrialized watersheds.  Dr. Hubeny currently has funding to study organic carbon cycling and deposition in Maine lakes, including regional coherencies in the patterns.  Research interests also include investigating the significant sedimentary factors that affect juvenile clam survival in tidal flats.
 Rory McFadden
Ph.D. Geology: University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, 2009 Dr. McFadden is interested in the evolution of orogenic crust, from the construction of crust in arc systems, to the cooling and exhumation of middle to lower crust during extension. He is especially interested in the influence of oblique tectonics on orogenic processes. His research emphasizes field-based structural geology and geochronology (U-Pb, 40Ar/39Ar). Research projects include: 1) Role of oblique tectonics in the emplacement of partially molten crust, represented by migmatites, during orogenic evolution, 2) processes and duration of melt-present deformation in the middle to lower crust, 3) crustal growth during regional contraction and intracontinental extension, concentrating on pluton emplacement processes and petrogenesis. Field areas include: Panamá; Fosdick Mountains, West Antarctica;  Pioneer Mountains, Idaho; Klamath Mountains, California
Jeanette Sablock
Ph.D. Geology, University of Idaho Dr. J. Sablock interests are in the still-developing field of Forensic Geology. She does petrological studies of sand found at crime scenes, and continues her line of research by applying mineralogical and petrological methods and tools to microscopic airborne particles. Her secondary interests include petrologic and geochemical analysis of local igneous rocks as well as provenance of Late Jurassic sands from the Swift and Morrison Formations of southwestern Montana. 
Peter Sablock
PhD Geology, College of Mines, University of Idaho Dr. P. Sablock has been studying the Beaver Creek Thrust Fault in SW Montana, in particular the structures on the lower plate as the fault ramps from basement to Paleozoic sedimentary rocks, which provide a unique insight into the deformation path subjacent to the fault. In addition, Dr. Sablock uses shallow environmental geophysical methods such as ground penetrating radar, EM induction, geomagnetics and various electrical methods, and seismic to investigate archaeological sites throughout northern New England. Dr. P. Sablock maintains an ongoing relationship with the state historical archaeologists of Maine and New Hampshire, Historic New England, and the National Park Service. . Assessment Documents:. What the faculty teaching upper level core courses need taught in GLS 100 Starting Department Assessment (Presentation by Dr. Jeanette Sablock) Department of Geological Sciences Assessment Initiatives 2007 Geological Skills (knowledge matrix)

Additional Assessment Documents:

What the faculty teaching upper level core courses need taught in GLS100
Starting Department Assessment (Presentation by Dr. Jeanette Sablock)
Department of Geological Sciences Assessment Initiatives 2007
Geological Skills (curriculum matrix)