Like it or not, assessment is part of nearly every aspect of student affairs. When I was in graduate school and learning all about assessment, my supervisor was the departmental Coordinator for Assessment. Cha-ching! She helped take something very abstract and made it manageable. Using simple steps and a current example, hopefully this article will do the same for you.
I oversee programmatic aspects of our First Year Experience (FYE), including a required class for new students. Each class has an instructor and undergraduate course assistant (CA). Currently, each faculty/CA pair decides on CA responsibilities for their section. Some establish clear responsibilities. Others struggle with this, resulting in varying experiences among CAs. My goal is to clearly define the CA role and focus on student development, but before this can happen, I must collect feedback from current CAs through a nine question survey.
Following an eight-step process, here’s what my project looks like:
1. GOALS. Always set goals before you begin. Mine are:
- Learn why students want to be a CA
- Learn about current CA responsibilities
- Develop CA training
2. NEED. This project is important because:
- We recently welcomed our largest-ever freshman class. However, more students does not mean more faculty/staff. Now more than ever, student-leaders are vital to the success of our programs and services. Defining exactly what a CA does will maximize their capacity to assist FYE.
- Our students value leadership opportunities. The CA role could be an excellent one. Currently, we are doing the CAs a disservice by not providing structure and learning.
- Focusing on CAs is valuable because they have a unique relationship with first-year students. They are often close in age, recently sat in the same seat, and work closely with faculty and staff. Thus, CAs can provide faculty/staff with trends, ideas concerns and questions about FYE. Informal assessment – another cha-ching!
3. TIMELINE. This will vary depending per project. My survey method is simple. I started the project in mid-October. Each CA received a survey, due November 13. As of November 1, 4 out of 20 CAs responded – not too shabby! Changes will begin in late spring, carrying through next academic year.
4. ACTION STRATEGIES. Based on conversations and early survey responses, trends are emerging. Trends inform action.
- Many faculty admittedly struggled using their CA. I will create a session for FYE faculty training about expectations and suggestions for utilizing a CA.
- CAs want training and leadership development. A one-day training will include sessions on leadership, important policies, and professional communication. Survey responses will shape training sessions throughout the year.
5. IDENTIFY KEY STAKEHOLDERS. I started at Lenoir-Rhyne in August 2015. Being new, I needed to build relationships. When my supervisor told me the CA position needed attention, I scheduled meetings with faculty and staff close to FYE. By hearing their input and sharing ideas, I gained information and support.
6. IMPLEMENTATION. In an ideal world, every response to every assessment ever would become action. But we live in a world with budgets and unrealistic requests. It is important to discern what needs to, can, and just ain’t gonna happen. To make these decisions, look for trends and ask the right questions. Then determine short- and long-term plans. As mentioned, I will focus on a clear position description and training, then go from there.
7. FOLLOW-UP ITEMS. Said training topics are a great example of follow-up items. For example, if CAs ask for certain trainings, I will provide it. Then, I’ll ask for feedback on that training. Additionally, provide updates to stakeholders along the way – thank participants; share plans; be transparent. People appreciate when their voices are heard.
8. REPORT! Assessment reports can secure funding, recruit new students, and create opportunities for learning, among other things. When your data becomes a report, share it. If data proves your program valuable, you may have an easier time keeping and growing resources. If your program isn’t effective don’t be afraid to change or cut it. The report on CA feedback will directly influence the short- and long-term development of the position, which has a huge potential impact on FYE.
If you’re new to assessment, don’t be scared. Start small. Focus on what you want to find. There are many assessment methods – choose one that matches your goals but is comfortable. And most importantly, use what you find!
This post is part of our #SAassess series on the importance of assessment in student affairs as a state of mind. A variety of knowledgeable and relatable perspectives will be portrayed throughout the month of November. We hope you will gain inspiring insights and take time to reflect on how you make meaning of your data collection and assessment practices. For more information, check out the intro post by Kim Irland. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kedrick Nicholas on Assessment of Student Programming