Assessment isn’t everyone’s forte in Student Affairs, and there is certainly a lot of data collected that seems to never be utilized effectively in cocurricular higher education. I’ve wondered for a while if this might be because we spend too much time assessing student satisfaction and their self-reported beliefs about what they think they learned from an experience. We don’t ask often enough for them to demonstrate what competencies they learned outside the classroom.
Recently, I read an article from ACPA’s September/October 2014 issue of “About Campus” magazine that finally said what I’ve been thinking. In this article, “Stop Asking Students to ‘Strongly Agree’: Let’s Directly Measure Cocurricular Learning,” author Julie M. Tucker makes her point well when she compares assessment practices of student learning INSIDE the classroom. “Classroom assessment requires students to demonstrate what they know rather than to circle a point scale to indicated whether they learned.” For example, she says, a professor would never ask a student on an exam to agree or disagree that they understand the difference between mitosis and meiosis. Rather, faculty ask students to describe the phases of mitosis and meiosis and the differences between them.
Tucker rightfully states that Student Affairs practitioners rely too heavily on self-reported instruments like Likert scales, and “our findings are only as good as the instruments we use to obtain them.” Perhaps we gravitate toward these instruments because they are familiar and comfortable. Perhaps it’s because many of us lack sufficient assessment training. Perhaps it’s simply because of the limited time we have as practitioners to devote to assessment of our programs, services, and initiatives. Whatever the case, I agree with Tucker that measuring student learning directly will result in more meaningful results which in turn can actually allow us to see what students’ learned or did not learn and enable us to make adjustments to improve outcomes with better precision.
I shared this article with a few of my colleagues, including the Office of Institutional Research (OIR) at my institution. My colleague Kayla Griewisch from OIR agreed with Tucker as well, saying “With self-report measures, you are going to get a lot of overestimation of skills as well as the tendency to respond in a socially desirable way. Rather than being completely honest, students may be thinking: ‘How do they want me to respond?’” She continues, “Likert scales – although they appear to provide an objective scale – are actually subjective in relation to each individual’s perception of the scale (i.e., one person’s idea of what ‘strongly agree’ means may be equivalent to what another’s idea of what ‘agree’ means).”
Even though my time is very limited, I for one would rather spend more time collecting and reviewing meaningful data that I can utilize to strategically improve student learning outside the classroom.
And I’m curious what your thoughts area, fellow practitioners. Please comment below.
1. As assessment has been increasingly mandated and prioritized, how useful and meaningful is the data you currently collect in helping you make improvements or changes?
2. Do you agree with Julie M. Tucker on the overuse of self-reported measurements for cocurricular learning?
3. What best practices do you employ for assessment of student learning outside the classroom?
You can read Tucker’ full article here.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kedrick Nicholas on Assessment of Student Programming