Many of us dread hearing the word assessment, especially during this time of the year. Soon, we will be diving into databases, feedback surveys, and program evaluations to provide data points for our beloved annual reports. A few weeks ago, during an evening #SAChat about assessment, I tweeted this final thought:
I strongly believe that how we assess our programs, analyze the feedback and present our findings can make or break a campus event or programmatic initiative. As much as we hate to do it and drag our feet with it, recognizing that effective and diversified assessments will not kill us, but only make us stronger, can save our programs and assist with validating what we do as student affairs professionals.
I am not an assessment expert but I have learned a few things throughout my time as the coordinator of a first-year seminar program and in my former position within an Orientation office. Whether it’s a small program that a select number of students are involved in or a campus-wide initiative that touches every student, administrator and office, putting forth the time and effort to create assessments that display the full story of your program from different perspectives can be very beneficial. Creating your assessment story should involve the students you serve, your campus partners, your staff and your co-workers. Every perspective is important and can shed light on areas of excellence as well as areas for improvement.
When I first started my position, I wanted to understand the full scope of my program. I conducted focus groups and created evaluations for my students, peer mentors and instructors, developed learning outcomes, scheduled campus outreach meetings with campus partners, updated course evaluations and spoke with any staff member that had been involved with my program. I also conducted an internal SWOT analysis to understand what worked, what needed to be changed and what the biggest challenges were. Over the last 3 years, I have found creative ways to assess my program to continue to display the growth and ongoing efforts to overcome challenges. Gone are the days of the mundane paper survey! Collecting quotes from students about their experiences, providing comment boxes during events, facilitating crowdsourcing activities during trainings, and gathering comments, positive and negative, from social media through hashtags are effective but different ways to assess your program or event. It’s amazing how much feedback you can collect by distributing index cards and asking participants to share their thoughts about a program.
One of our greatest mistakes with assessment is not sharing our findings. Sharing your data will assist with highlighting the need for your program and how it fits into the larger mission of the university. It also helps to foster relationships and build collaborative partnerships across campus with faculty and staff that can contribute and advocate for your program. When programs are on the chopping block due to budget constraints, your assessments and advocates of your program can make the difference between who/what program stays and who/what program goes. When a faculty member questions the purpose of allocating funds to support the campus activities board or the comedian that will come to campus, it’s helpful to refer to the feedback that you have collected from students to show that experiences outside of the classroom are just as important in fostering their student success.
In the era of questioning the purpose of our profession, assessments help validate our existence. Some people may not understand what we do from the outside looking in, but when our programs and our profession are data informed, it’s hard to debate the numbers and the feedback. To better assist you with creating your assessment story here are few points to consider:
Know the purpose of your program/event/activity and be able to articulate it. Why are you offering it? Who does it benefit? What population(s) are you serving? Where does it fit in the department mission, university mission or strategic plan?
Create learning outcomes. Learning outcomes are important for you and your audience to understand what they should be learning from your program/event/activity. Learning outcomes provide direction for your program content and your assessments. You should create at least one meaningful learning outcome for your program and create a question/experience that measures the outcome for your audience. Identify what you want your audience to learn? Will your audience be able to articulate what they learned when your program is over? How is that outcome being presented or taught throughout your program/event/activity?
Update your assessments, every year. Don’t just change the year then print/distribute or attach/send because that is what’s always been done. Review it and update it. Think about what new data you want to capture. What new information do you want to be able to share with your campus? What new area is the focus for your campus and how can you collect that information to show that your program is in line with that area? Think of some creative ways to assess your program other than the traditional survey.
Measure effectiveness vs. satisfaction. Many times we ask our students if they are satisfied with our programs but fail to measure the effectiveness of our programs. Being able to show that your program is effective in meeting the needs of students and the needs of the university assists in validating why our programs exists and why we, as student affairs professionals, are a necessary presence on all college campuses.
What tips do you have for creating and diversifying our assessment stories?