James Madison University (Virginia, USA)

September 18th, 2011 by QS in Science team Categories: James Madison University (USA) No Responses

Print Version_JMU Case Study_Jan2012

(JMU) is based in Virginia, United States of America with approximately 20,000 students enrolled across undergraduate and post-graduate programs. Established in 1908, JMU is often cited as one of the top public universities in the USA. Science at JMU: The College of Science and Mathematics offers a Bachelor of Science (BSc) program with majors in Biology, Chemistry, Geology, Mathematics and Physics.   The College has an average annual in-take of about 700 students. The entry requirement into JMU is based on the SAT Reasoning Test  with a scoring range from 600 (lowest) to 2400 (highest) across three sections each weighted at 800 points. In 2010, the SAT mean entry score was 1146 based on only two sections, mathematics and verbal reasoning (1600 being the highest possible outcome). Mathematics requirements for entry: JMU requires high school level mathematics usually including two years of algebra and a year of geometry. Mathematics entry requirements are linked to the SAT which has a dedicated section on mathematics.

The JMU case study focuses on the Biology major, and is framed around a model of educational change based on the work of Michael Fullan


Initiation of Change

“Who prompted need for QS in science and why?” At an institutional level, a cycle of review for academic programsoccurs roughly every 7 years. There are several other factors at JMU that have led to a focus on the development of learning outcomes and the evaluation of the program in light of those learning outcomes.

  1. The State of Virginia requires evaluation of programs at the level of learning outcomes.
  2. A revision of the general education program in 1997. This program is split into “clusters” with Cluster Three, The Natural World, providing all JMU students the opportunity to develop problem-solving skills in science and mathematics.   For this cluster learning objectives were formulated around skills rather than content.
  3. Following discussion amongst academic staff in biology around the year 2000 there was an application for an NSF grant to revitalize core courses –– at this time there was a realization it was necessary to have learning outcomes to guide the redevelopment.
  4. At annual “retreat days” (faculty planning meeting) the academic program sometimes features.  For example in the recent past a review of the upper division curriculum in light of assessment data was the focus of one retreat day.

Vision for Change

“What do QS in Science look like?” Institutional graduate attributes are not a feature at institutions in the USA.  Skill objectives for both biology majors and students in the general education program are listed in this publication(see table 1 on page 19). Some of these specific skills include:

  • Discrimination between association and causation, and identify the types of evidence used to establish causation.
  • Formulation of hypothesis and identification of relevant variables  to test that hypothesis.
  • Designing and executing experiments to test hypotheses.
  • Data collection, handling, analysis and interpretation.
  • Using professional oral and written communication skills
  • Using  mathematics to understand and analyze biological phenomena.

Implementing for Change

“How is need for QS in Science translated into practice?” The major in biology offers considerable structure in the first two years of the program.  The final two years offer students greater flexibility.  Comprehensive advice for students studying biology is given here: http://www.jmu.edu/catalog/10/programs/biology.html.  

1st level features up to two core mathematics units (depending on the background of the student) taught by mathematics department.  The unit BIO124 – Ecology and Evolution – offers a QS experience taught by academics from Biology.

 2nd level features one core statistics unit – taught by statistician from mathematics department.

3rd and 4th levels features flexibility of choice with students able to select units embed QS

Extra Curricular QS: There is no specific extra-curricular QS program, however students are encouraged to participate in research, and this may provide the opportunity for enhancement of QS. Interdisciplinary QS:  There is an interdisciplinary program with biotechnologywhich offers students the opportunity to develop interdisciplinary QS.

Evaluating the Change

“How effective has the change to build QS in Science been?”

JMU has a well-developed program of evaluation of its programs (in the USA this is called assessment).  The Center for Assessment and Research Studies provides the University with this service. The regime of assessment is across both the general education program and the disciplinary majorsAssessment dayis a prominent feature in the cycle of evaluation, each student being tested multiple times throughout their study, using the same instrument, in order to determine the effectiveness of the programs at JMU. Information about the Quantitative Reasoning test (QR) and Scientific Reasoning Test (SR) is available from Madison Assessment.  These tests form the basis on which the natural world cluster in the general education program is assessed.  Furthermore the extent to which the assessment of the natural world cluster can be used to assess the outcomes of the biology major has been explored in in this publication. Included in the publication are examples of the questions in each of the QR and SR tests.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning activities at  James Madison University  have been greatly  influenced by its focus on unit and program assessment that integrate  mathematical knowledge into a science context (see references below):

Brakke, D. F. (2011). Improving undergraduate biology and science education on a broad scale.  Association for Women in Science( Summer 2011), 36.

Hurney, C. A., Brown, J., Griscom, H. P, Kancler, E., Wigtil, C. J. , & Sundre, D. (2011). Closing the Loop: Involving Faculty in the Assessment of Scientific and Quantitative Reasoning Skills of Biology Majors. Journal of College Science Teaching, 40(6), 18-23.

Markham, D. A., Sundre, D., & Seifert, K. (2010). Biology Major Assessment: The Natural World – version 9 (NW-9): James Madison University.


Thanks to the following people at JMU for collaborating with us to document this case study:

Dr Carol Hurney, Executive Director, Center for Faculty Innovation, Department of Biology.
Dr Donna Sundre, Executive Director of the Center for Assessment and Research Studies.
Dr Patrice Ludwig, Lecturer in Biology, Department of Biology.
A/Prof Janet Daniel, Associate Professor in Biology, Department of Biology.
Dr Judith Dilts, Associate Dean and Professor of Biology, Department of Biology.
Dr David Brakke, Dean, College of Science and Mathematics.
Prof Bruce Wiggins, Professor of Biology, Department of Biology.
Prof Jonathan Munroe, Professor of Biology, Department of Biology.
A/Prof Marta Bechtel, Associate Professor in Biology, Department of Biology.
A/Prop Terrie Rife, Associate Professor in Biology, Department of Biology.


If you have any questions, comments or thoughts on the JMU case study, you are welcome to contact them directly.


This case study is up to date as of January 2012. The interviews to gather this data were conducted in October 2011.