Are student affairs practitioners viewing their work in the context of a student learning framework? We know that the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) has identified 44 functional areas in their standards for higher education programs and services (CAS, 2015). Student-learning occurs across all of these 44 areas, even in places we may think are least likely such as financial aid, registration and records, student legal services, and auxiliary services to name a few. All student affairs departments need to view their work through the lens of teaching and learning, use assessment to demonstrate their impact on student learning, and to improve programs and services.
I come to this idea, in part, because I believe that student affairs practitioners are not always viewed by themselves or by others as educators. So what if we used some tools from K-12 educators’ playbook? Both Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe have written extensively about backward design in K-12 education. In Understanding by Design: A Framework for Effecting Curricular Development and Assessment, Wiggins and McTighe (2006) present a framework that integrates content and meaningful assessment with effective pedagogy to affect change in student knowledge, skills, and abilities. Essentially this means we start with the end in mind — the intended results of our efforts — and build the teaching and learning environment around these efforts. This framework has long been used in K-12 education and is part of all teacher education programs. It needs to be part of all student affairs work too.
So how would their framework look in practice in our student affairs programs and services? In the first stage, educators would identify the desired student outcomes before outlining specifics of the program content and delivery. What should students know, understand, and be able to do as a result of engaging in programs and services? Be intentional but realistic as to the impact of your programs and services. If you want a change in student learning or a change in student behavior, a program of short duration will probably not make that kind of impact.
In the next stage, determine what constitutes acceptable and meaningful evidence that students have achieved the desired outcomes. Decide how you will directly measure student learning. Use a variety of assessment tools available and consider using a combination of assessment approaches to measure student learning. This includes gathering evidence through research papers and other process reports, multiple choice or essay examinations, personal essays, journals, computational exercises and problems, case studies, audiotapes, videotapes, and short-answer quizzes, to name a few.
Finally in the last stage, you will plan and deliver learning experiences and activities (curriculum) that will equip students with the desired knowledge and skills to meet the expected outcomes. This alignment between expected outcomes, assessment, content and delivery constitute best practice. When these are aligned, educators use assessment to improve the learning experience for students who participate in programs and services.
What would student affairs practice look like under this model? Such practice could integrate student affairs more into the academic and university culture by removing some of the silos that exist both within student affairs and across the campus. It will foster professional development of student affairs practitioners in key areas (Assessment, Evaluation, and Research and Student Learning and Development) endorsed in the ACPA and NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners (2010). Most importantly, it would allow student affairs programs and services to tell their stories with even more credibility so that when stakeholders are questioning the worth and value of a degree, given the financial costs to students and their families, they won’t think of student affairs an auxiliary set of services.
Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (2015). CAS professional standards for higher education (9th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
ACPA and NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners (2010). Retrieved from: www.naspa.org/programs/profdev/
Wiggins, G, & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design: A Framework for Effecting Curricular Development and Assessment Understanding (2nd ed.). Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: Alexandria, VA.
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 Nicholas on Assessment of Student Programming