Utah State

home > Assessment > Assessment Plan
Department of Physics

  Assessment Plan


The Physics program assesses its Learning Objectives using a portfolio of strategies, including:

  • Coursework - presentations, reports, written work, and examinations,  This tool assesses the following Learning Objectives: Phyiscs Concepts, Problem Solving and Mathematical analysis, Laboratory Skills, Computer skills.  See Mapping: Curriculum and Learning Objectives for details.
  • Compilation and analysis of student course evaluationsThis assessment tool addresses progress toward all Learning ObjectivesThis is, of course, one of the most traditional methods of assessing all aspects of an educational program, albeit from the student's point of view.  The utility and weaknesses of this assessment tool are well-known.   Most physics classes are too small for meaningful statistical analysis of course evaluations.  Nonetheless, ratings and comments gleaned from the course evaluations are a regular source of improvements for individual classes and for the program as a whole.
  • Exit interviews. This tool assesses all Learning Objectives. The department head interviews each graduating senior with the goal of gleaning what worked and what didn't work in the physics program, principally from the student's perspective, of course.  The interview is based upon a questionnaire that the student reviews/completes prior to the interview. The questionnaire inquires about the goals the student has for his/her physics degree, the various strengths and weaknesses of the physics program relative to supporting these goals, and the student's self-assessment of the degree to which the Physics Department Learning objectives have been implemented.  A copy of the interview questionnaire can be found here The students provide feedback regarding the USU Physics program in the areas of: curriculum, course quality, laboratory quality, infrastructure, advising and overall satisfaction.  Students are explicitly asked to comment on their perceptions of attainment of all learning objectives.  The College of Science conducts its own exit interview.  Three of the questions are directly relevant to our Learning Objectives and we measure the responses on a 4 point scale.
  • Pre and Post tests. This tool assesses the progress on the following Learning Objectives: Physics Concepts, Problem Solving and Mathematical Analysis. In the Physics 2210/2220 introductory series we administer quizzes at the start and at the end of the courses to assess value-added. This course serves our majors as well as scientists from other majors and engineering students.  The classes are sufficiently large for meaningful statistics. 

  • Feedback from students, teachers, and other stakeholders.  This assessment tool addresses progress toward all Learning Objectives.  A variety of formal and informal interactions with students and faculty feature in this most traditional of assessment schemes. These interactions include faculty meetings, faculty retreats, interaction with out physics student advisor, regular faculty-graduate student meetings, etc. A good number of improvements in our program have arisen through this mechanism.
  • Physics Capstone Project.  This tool assesses all Learning Objectives. The Physics Capstone Project is a formal course, Physics 4900, Research in Physics, required of all physics majors.  A student teams up with a faculty mentor to execute a suitable research project.  Some student-faculty teams spend several semesters on their joint research and the research often results in a publication.  Besides working closely with a faculty mentor for an extended period of time, students are required to give a written account of their research and give a presentation of their work in a public venue. This is more than a senior project it is a scaled down version of the kind of work that goes into an MS thesis, PhD dissertation, or "real world" post-graduate applications.  From the assessment point of view, faculty are able to determine whether the course of study in the physics major adequately prepares the student for the kind of work expected of an undergraduate physics graduate.  Faculty members assess the students using a rubric based upon the Physics Learning Objectives, and they use this rubric to determine the student's grade. The mentor's evaluation of learning objectives is submitted to the Physics 4900 director for program assessment purposes.  This method of assessment is relatively new since it uses the learning objectives which came out of the recently completed state of Utah physics tuning process.   Since this course assesses what a student can do in a professional-level application at the end of their formal coursework, and since the assessment takes place via extensive one on one interactions with an expert, this method of assessment will become one of most important tools in the assessment toolbox for the physics department. For details, see:  Physics 4900 contract, reports, and assessment rubric.