I am very fortunate to have a phenomenal Office of Institutional Research at my disposal. Recently, I interviewed our Dean of Research and Planning, Barb Russell, about her thoughts on assessment in student affairs and what follows is a paraphrased transcript of our conversation.
1. Please define what assessment “dashboards” are and how these can be utilized by student affairs functional areas?
At Jamestown Community College, assessment dashboards are static periodic reports which contain information on trends to help inform decision making. Currently, we offer dashboards to athletics, residence life, campus activities, orientation, and recruitment/admissions. We closely examine the relationship between different variables to measure retention rates, graduation rates, enrollment rates, and success rates at various critical junctures like six week grades and census. The goal is to use this data to improve processes and services provided by student affairs. The bottom line for all assessment is to improve.
2. What ground work do you recommend functional area’s establish for efficient data collection?
As with all assessment, defining WHAT YOU WANT TO MEASURE is the first step. Ask yourself, what is the expected outcome of the activity? What do you NEED to know to improve the activity? The key is to START with identifying how you will measure your learning outcome(s). Examples of questions you can ask include, “what do you remember about…?” or “what did you learn from attending…?” And if you are doing any kind of training for student staff or student leaders, make sure you have a rubric in place beforehand to use for measuring whether or not the training was successful and effective.
3. What advice do you have for student affairs professionals working to develop student learning outcomes for their programs and services?
Break programs and services into small pieces, i.e. “students attending this event should learn ___.” Then ask yourself HOW you can determine if they did in fact learn what you intended. We are all very busy in higher education, so don’t view assessment as a “new task.” Incorporate this into what you already do. For example, if you already give students a satisfaction survey at the end of your program, add a question to that survey that asks them to articulate something they learned. Or add a multiple choice question if that is easier…Check all that apply, “what did you learn today?” or “what did you discover you did not know before XX event?”
4. What role do you see Offices of Institutional Research serving in the future for their student affairs colleagues at their institutions? How has this role changed from previous expectations?
We are a partner and a resource. Planning and goal writing have always been part of the charge for my student affairs colleagues, but in the current atmosphere of institutional effectiveness new light is being shone here. All of higher education is expected to be engage in a cycle of continuous improvement. Emphasis is on data driven decision making as limited resources are being further limited. Student learning outcomes outside the classroom are relatively new, but they are not going away. All the accreditation bodies are using similar language for their evaluation of these activities. So utilize your institution’s office of institutional research staff and faculty who are experienced at assessing learning outcomes.
5. What assessment trends do you see developing that might be relevant for student affairs practitioners?
Use of BIG DATA is the current trend and I only see this growing. For example, researchers at the University of Rochester are using Instagram to track teen drinking. An example of “big data” collection on a college campus is when campuses track and review patterns from swiped IDs to make decisions. With more technology being used by students I see more and more assessment tracking being implemented.