Category Archives: Resources

Cognitive difficulty of geoscience tasks or tests

The “Bloom’s Dichotomous Key” or BDK was developed as part of the EOAS Flexible Learning project in Fall 2014 as a means of judging whether a task or test question causes students to engage in higher or lower order cognitive skills. It isn’t about “difficulty” because there can be difficult lower order (eg memory-based) tasks and easy synthesis or creative tasks.

This effort was based on work done by Casagrand and Semsar in the Dep’t of Integrative Physiology at U. of Colorado, Boulder, but we adapted it for use in geoscience, and based on repeated application by the TLF (Francis Jones) and a teaching assistant (Rhy McMillan).

This link provides a one-page flow chart for applying the key. It is “dichotomous” because Blooms level is arrived at by repeatedly considering yes/no questions about what students are being caused to do. The other two pages provide notes and guidelines plus a simplified flowchart figure. The tool is not officially published, but results have been employed as data for several presentations and workshops, both peer reviewed and not.

See the three-page PDF here: bdk-geoscience.

Upcoming publication

We are excited to have the following paper accepted for publication in Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education: “Impact Assessment of a Department-wide Science Education Initiative using Students’ Perceptions of Teaching and Learning Experiences“. The Student Learning Experiences Survey or SLES is an an instrument developed for this work and can be found at

Here is the paper’s abstract:

Evaluating major post-secondary education improvement projects involves multiple perspectives, including students’ perceptions of their experiences. In the final year of a seven-year department-wide science education initiative, we asked students in 48 courses to rate the extent to which each of 39 teaching or learning strategies helped them learn in the course. Results were related to the type of improvement model used to enhance courses, class size and course year level. Overall, students perceived unimproved courses as least helpful. Small courses that were improved with support from science education specialists were perceived overall as more helpful than similar courses improved by expert teaching-focused faculty without support, while the opposite was found for medium courses. Overall perceptions about large courses were similar to perceptions of medium courses. Perceived helpfulness of individual strategies was more nuanced and context dependent, and there was no consistent preference for either traditional or newer evidence-based instructional practices. Feedback and homework strategies were most helpful in smaller courses and independently improved courses. Results indicate that students are perceptive to benefits that arise when improvements are made either by expert educators or by research-focused faculty who received dedicated support from science education specialists.

Virtual resources: adapting f2f active learning for distance education

Virtual resources and interactive online lab exercises

This link points to a page describing some of the resources we have developed, along with numerous links to examples, demonstrations, and tools used.

Dissemination of results will continue in the form of:

  • A poster presented at the UBC Faculty of Science Education Open House (April 11, 2016) and the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund Showcase, May 5th, 2016.
  • Documentation and materials in “Instructor and TA Guidelines” folders of each course’s Connect (i.e. Blackboard 9.x) website.
  • A future publication, tentatively titled “Adapting face to face learning activities for equally engaging and effective student experiences in distance education settings“.
  • Demonstrations and discussions with colleagues across UBC in all faculties.

Looking forward, results from this project are now contributing to developments in both f2f and DE settings with our new TLEF project “Development of cost effective strategies for teaching, learning and assessing scientific reasoning abilities in large face-to-face and distance education general science courses“.