by Adam Kuhn
This past June I had the chance to participate in the 2015 ACPA Assessment Institute in Louisville.
The institute was a 3-day event that focused on assessment in Student Affairs. This year, the institute offered two streams- one for program assessment and another for divisional assessment strategies.
Each session had a great deal of valuable, useful information- everything from designing rubrics, data visualization, qualitative analysis and more. The community of scholars and practitioners was warm and friendly- many disclosing that they truly felt comfortable in the company of other ‘data nerds.’
The institute was worthwhile, and now that it has been a few weeks behind me, I wanted to share the three ‘big ideas’ that I continue to think about.
Measure What You Treasure and Treasure What You Measure
As soon as I heard this I scrambled to write it down so I would not forget it. First of all, it is really catchy and memorable. Secondly- it is actually very profound. Sometimes we stress out about assessment and feel like we aren’t asking the right questions- but the truth of the matter is, we should only assess what we truly care about. Don’t ask questions that are ‘good to know’- assess what you ‘need to know’.
The second part of this is really valuing and utilizing the data we collect. Often we let our data gather virtual dust in a folder on our desktop, or let the paper surveys languish in a file folder somewhere. This truly dishonours the students who have taken the time to contribute to your survey and really wastes the time you took to design and implement the assessment method. Make sure you plan the time to really reflect on the data you collect.
The notion of ‘prove/improve’ is a simple idea to help us in on exactly WHY we are assessing a program or service in the first place. Are we looking to prove something- to ourselves, to a supervisor, to a VP, to students? If we are looking for evidence of success or achievement, this will significantly influence the types of questions we ask and the types of methodologies we choose. If we are looking to enhance and improve a program (effectiveness, timing, design and delivery) then we may alter our process to suit our goals. When discussion assessment we often discuss the ‘satisfaction vs learning’ dichotomy, but I find the prove/improve idea slightly more helpful.
How does assessment help make students’ lives better?
This question was asked in one of our final keynotes and it caught me off guard. I have always thought of assessment as rather process oriented, even procedural. Once the keynote asked this question, it hit me- we assess our work so that we can, in some way, improve the lives of the students we are hired to serve. All caring professions include a reflective practice so they can continually get better. Even football players devote many hours to reviewing their practice and game footage to reflect on their approach. So- assessment can sometimes feel like a chore, but in the end, isn’t it our responsibility to make sure we are continuously doing our best?
The 2016 ACPA Assessment Institute will be hosted from June 21 – June 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. For more information: http://www.myacpa.org/events/2016-student-affairs-assessment-institute
Adam Kuhn is the Director of Student and Campus Community Development and a member of the Student Life Learning Outcomes and Assessment Committee.