One of the benefits of being a graduate student in my program is that all graduate students are required to take a year-long assessment course. Fortunately for me, I have strong interests in assessment, evaluation and research, but unfortunately this interest might not be shared by everyone. I don’t think this aversion to assessment is unique to graduate students. It extends to some professionals and understandably so. No one wants to go to a staff meeting and share numbers that demonstrate you are underperforming relative to other offices or according other metrics.
There is no doubt that assessment is important, especially in the higher education landscape since there is an increasing amount of pressure from external stakeholders. But that’s the big picture. I am struggling with the thought of creating an assessment culture on the small picture level. How do you create a “culture of assessment,” a place where everyone is open to the idea of coming up with ways to measure student satisfaction, outcomes, etc.? It is especially difficult to create this culture of assessment when your budget is at stake. To be fair, I think it is unlikely that professionals do not want to do assessment at all. Some don’t. But I think it’s more likely that there is not enough time in the day to balance the various needs and tasks associated with one’s job and do assessment on top of that.
So what do we do? Do we create positions specifically for assessment? How do we create a culture that is open about data?
What is striking to me is how many people I’ve spoken to that do not know how to ask good research questions, what counts as good data, what ways you can use data to “prove” something, ways you cannot use your data to prove something, etc. What is also striking is the use of statistics or “dirty data” to support claims when that data does not in fact support those claims. On a practical level, I understand that you cannot always get clean data and you’ll need to work with what you have. Trust me. I get it. There is a finite amount of time to design and implement programs, meet with students, and deal with random tasks thrown at you. But how can we build a process into our offices or cultures to build towards an assessment driven culture?
I think we can start by offering workshop sessions to professionals on how to analyze data, gain insight from findings, and how to collect data using methods other than just surveys. We could all benefit from having a conversation about how to create an open environment around data while maintaining privacy. We could create job positions at a university that would be responsible for the creation of, for example, dashboards that would easily display information and make it easy to manipulate.
The opportunities are endless, but in a higher education landscape that is becoming increasingly focused on demonstrating the worth of programs and services, we need to make assessment a part of our daily life.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kedrick Nicholas on Assessment of Student Programming