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Physiology involves the study of how living systems function, from the molecular and cellular level to the systems level, and emphasizes an integrative approach to studying the biological functions of the human body.

The assessment plan for the Physiology Undergraduate Major is presented below.

Expected Learning Outcomes: 

The teaching mission for the undergraduate Physiology major is to provide a foundation of physiological principles and their application in real-life situations. By the completion of the program, undergraduate students are expected to:Expected Learning Outcomes:  Learning Outcomes are clear and succinct while using concrete verbs to describe what students are expected to know and do.  The faculty in this program limited their outcomes to 6 (recommend 3-5) which is a workable list.

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of organ systems function.
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of cellular function.
  3. Demonstrate the ability to integrate physiology from the cellular and molecular level to the organ system and organismic level of organization.
  4. Effectively read, evaluate and communicate scientific information.
  5. Demonstrate knowledge of current topics in physiology.
  6. Conduct and/or evaluate laboratory experiments in physiology.
Assessment Activities: 

The student learning outcomes listed above are assessed within certain courses that emphasize each outcome and through a yearly focus group and senior survey.  Table 1 shows the courses associated with each outcome and includes a summary of the assessment activities that measure each student learning outcome.  In addition to these direct measures for each outcome, we collect senior surveys from graduating students (~75% response rate) and distribute a more in-depth survey to our focus group participants to learn more about the students’ perspective on our program’s success. Below is a description of each assessment activity.Assessment Activities: Note that the department has included both direct and indirect measures of their outcomes.  The use of a curriculum map or table helped align outcomes with courses to ensure that all outcomes were being assessed.  The program also recognized that large classes were more difficult to assess and came up with a creative solution.

  1. Pre-post clicker questions in core courses.
  2. PSIO 201 and PSIO 202 Human Anatomy and Physiology.
    • This introductory course is taken by pre-majors and non-majors as a prerequisite for other courses or programs and it provides a foundation for organ systems knowledge (outcome 2).
    • The assessment activity involves six clicker questions given at the beginning of the course and again at the end of the course. The questions are written by faculty teaching in the course and the answers are not shown to students until the end of the course. All students receive points for participation and they are told to work independently.
  3. PSIO 303A and PSIO 303B Integrative Cellular Physiology.
    • This core course is taken by pre-Physiology and Physiology majors and provides the foundation for cellular physiology knowledge (Outcome 1).
    • The assessment activity involves 6 clicker questions given at the beginning of the course and again at the end of the course. The questions are written by faculty teaching in the course and the answers are not shown to students until the end of the course. All students receive points for participation and they are told to work independently.
  4. Focus groups.
  5. Focus group physiological scenario (8-10 graduating seniors).

The physiological scenario was written to test the students’ ability to integrate and apply information to a real life scenario (outcome 3). Students worked independently and provided written answers. The answers were graded by three Physiology faculty members using a grading rubric.

b.     Focus group in-depth survey (8-10 graduating seniors).

The focus group in-depth survey consisted of questions about the Physiology major curriculum including the depth and breadth of courses offered the progression through the core courses, and the difficulty of upper division courses. 

  1. Senior survey 
    1. The survey is distributed to graduating seniors every year
    2. The survey includes student ratings for program student learning outcomes, major courses, advising services and overall satisfaction with the Physiology major.

Table 1. Undergraduate Courses and Assessment Activities Associated with Student Learning Outcomes


Relevant Coursework

Assessment Activities

1. Demonstrate knowledge of organ systems function.

PSIO 201 and PSIO 202: Human Anatomy and Physiology

Pre-post clicker questions in PSIO 201 and PSIO 202; assessed yearly

2. Demonstrate knowledge of cellular function

PSIO 303A: Integrative Cellular Physiology

Pre-post clicker questions in PSIO 303A; assessed yearly

3. Demonstrate ability to integrate from cell to organ system


Focus group physiological scenario using grading rubric; assessed yearly

4. Effectively read, evaluate and communicate scientific information*

PSIO 485: Cardiovascular Physiology

Pre-post evaluation of writing assignment in PSIO 485; assessed in 2014 and every 3 years

5. Demonstrate knowledge of current topics in physiology*

PSIO 489: Current Topics in Physiology

TBD assessed in 2015 and every 3 years

6. Conduct and/or evaluate laboratory experiments in physiology*

PSIO 425:Measurement and Evaluation of Physiological Function

TBD assessed in 2016 and every 3 years

*Student learning outcomes #4, 5, 6 will be measured on rotation (one each year) 

Assessment activities in the physiology undergraduate program must take class size into consideration. Our core courses are very large (300-500 students) and require creative ways of measurement to ensure that the assessment process is sustainable over the years. This is a challenge for assessment of outcomes 4 and 6 because these outcomes by definition require discussion and this would be done best in smaller courses.

Developing and evaluating assessment plans.Developing and Evaluating Assessment Plans: Involvement of all faculty and staff is critical to a good assessment program.  This department has done an excellent job by including faculty and staff in building their assessment plan.  Furthermore, it is an ongoing process, not just a “one and done”.

Faculty and staff are actively involved in developing and evaluating assessment plans. The Department is following the University’s lead by implementing a faculty-driven assessment process.  The physiology assessment plan is relatively new and we are making adjustments each year as we consider better ways to collect data in our large courses. The student learning outcomes were created by our current faculty members in 2011 and were revised to a more manageable list in 2013. Work on the assessment scheme takes place at faculty meetings (third Friday of each month), Physiology Retreats (last Thursday of the fall and spring semester) and monthly Undergraduate Staff/Faculty meetings.  The assessment scheme will evolve in future years. The initial plan for assessment activities was to measure integration (outcome 3) in the first year. The method used to assess this outcome was to look at embedded exam questions in various courses that measured integration of physiological principles from cellular to organ systems levels of organization. These questions were a good idea, except for the fact that our core courses are team taught and the pre-post questions had variable difficulty. This information was shared at a faculty meeting and it was decided to use clickers to collect data on pre-post questions for outcomes 1 and 2 and to assess outcome 3 in the focus group.

Assessment Findings: 

Assessment Findings: Excellent reporting of findings. Tables and graphs are very clear to read with adequate explanation of results. Sometimes departments can get bogged down with data and think more is better, however, keeping it simple can be more useful.Figure 1: Assessment outcomes for SLO 1 (PSIO 201 and 202) and SLO 2 (PSIO 303A). Scores on 6 multiple choice in-class clicker questions taken at the beginning of the course (pre) and at the end of the course (post). Scores show improvement from the beginning to the end of each course. Furthermore, the pre-test scores generally increase from the first course (PSIO 201) to the second (PSIO 202) and third course (PSIO 303a) in the sequence. This illustrates that students are more prepared as they progress through the curriculum.

Table 2: Performance of two subsamples of graduating seniors on a written physiological scenario testing their integration of cellular and systems physiology knowledge.  Student answers were scored by Physiology faculty using a grading rubric and the scores were compared to the students’ self-score. On average, the students tended to overestimate their ability to integrate information.

Figure 2: Changes in writing scores over the course of the semester in an upper division Cardiovascular Physiology course (PSIO 485, Instructor: Zoe Cohen, Ph.D.). Students read a scientific article and answered questions about the article. A grading rubric was used to score the written answers.

Table 3: Senior survey data collected during spring 2014. The table includes the number of students who chose each rating number for how well the Physiology major achieved the student learning outcomes. The student rating scale was as follows: 4=extremely well, 3=very well, 2=adequately well, 1= not very well, 0=not at all. The average score for each outcome is listed on the right side.

Change in Response to Findings: 

1) Improvement in student learning and classroom instruction.Change in Response to Findings: Again, excellent reporting on changes due to findings. It is clear, once again, that the entire faculty worked together on the assessment plan.  Furthermore, their assessment plan is well-aligned with department strategic plan and reflects future plans and endeavors for program improvement.

Physiology faculty members have a strong commitment to undergraduate teaching. All faculty use peer evaluation each year as well as formal student evaluations to improve their courses. With regard to objective measurements of outcomes, the pre-post clicker question scores collected from fall 2013 to fall 2014 indicate that students are improving from beginning to end of each measured course. Students are gaining knowledge in cellular and systems physiology (outcomes 1 and 2) and improving from one course to the next. This is indicated by the increase in pre-test scores from PSIO 201 to PSIO 202 and subsequently to PSIO 303a.  The focus group physiological scenario written answer scores indicated that the sampled students were able to integrate and apply information they learned in the major. However, we would like to see these scores improve in the future.

Data from the focus group in-depth survey and the senior survey prompted us to include more integration and application of material in our curriculum. The faculty for PSIO 201 and PSIO 202 met and agreed to change the format of the class to include two integration lectures at the end of each course to allow students the opportunity to apply the information to physiological scenarios or problems. In addition, the course was also changed to include a comprehensive final exam in which students would be asked to integrate and apply the information across the organ systems studied in the course up to that point. This change was implemented in Fall 2013.

2) Integration with strategic planning.

The University has devised an excellent set of instructions for faculty-driven program assessment. It is clear that there must be a realistic likelihood of Program Change in order for such a program assessment scheme to work.  As a consequence, program assessment is a driver for strategic planning in the Department of Physiology.  The Department is able to change teaching assignments, increase or decrease the number of faculty, and change the balance between teaching-focused lecturers vs research-engaged tenure-track faculty members.

It must be kept in mind that the Department is far more than simply an undergraduate teaching unit. The Department of Physiology has a dual mission of research and teaching and seeks to maintain national prominence in both areas.  Moreover, a large amount of faculty effort goes into teaching medical students (with program assessment carried out separately via AzMed) and graduate students (with program assessment carried out separately by the Physiological Science GIDP).  In simple terms, the Department strategic planning process collects and responds to quality metrics in 4 areas: research; undergraduate teaching; graduate teaching; medical teaching. Careful strategic planning is required to strike the correct balance. In addition, the Department’s strategic plan must align with that of the College of Medicine as well as the University’s Never Settle plan.

3) Review, evaluation, and modification of the curriculum.

According to student surveys, our curriculum provides enough depth and breadth of knowledge in cellular and systems physiology. However, the students would like more opportunities to read and discuss research papers, to solve physiology problems including clinically oriented case studies and integrate information they learned in core and elective courses. At the December 2013 Physiology Retreat the faculty concluded this can be achieved in colloquia and other capstone courses. Currently, there is no capstone requirement in the Physiology major. The Physiology curriculum offers a range of capstone experiences but space is limited.  Not all students are able to participate. Inevitably, high-enrollment degree programs face serious challenges in providing enough small-group classes.  The Department is eager to offer this type of experience to all physiology students.  There is only one solution: the Department, College of Medicine and University needs to devise a plan for recruitment of additional faculty members. 

Note about the Assessment Plan

Implementation was successful in part because the assessment program was developed with the help and involvement of Physiology faculty. In the first year of our assessment, we were able to implement a practical and sustainable assessment program that generates data. In the future, we plan to make incremental improvements to the assessment plan in each academic year. The assessment program is reviewed yearly by the Assessment Task Force (consisting of three faculty members) that reports to the Physiology Curriculum Committee. The assessment findings are shared with the Physiology faculty for feedback.



Updated date: Mon, 07/02/2018 - 14:09