When you think of assessment, what comes to mind?
Perhaps that it’s another to-do item, will change you to make sense of numbers, or will require you to write a report. Ugh.
As a student affairs assessment professional, what happens when you hear these types of negative remarks from your colleagues in other functional areas? How do you address and educate?
After three years of working in student affairs assessment at a public historically black university, I learned three key lessons for working with staff who fear assessment.
1. Develop Rapport
Developing rapport is critical for creating a culture of assessment among staff who may not understand its value. There are a few key ways to do this.
First, you should have a keen understanding of each functional unit — its mission, programs, and services. The CAS Standards is a great way to learn about the basic standards of various functional units. Keep in mind, however, that each campus functions differently, so it’s vital to also to explore your particular units’ websites, participate in programs and services, and have regular meetings with department leadership.
Second, identify how assessment is related to each unit so that when you meet with staff, you’ll have a framework for your discussion.
Third, meet with all directors and assessment liaisons of each unit to discuss your role and establish yourself as the assessment expertise. Staff should feel comfortable in knowing that you’re not there to tell them how to do their jobs; rather, you can assist in improving their data-driven practices and services.
Lastly, I recommended volunteering to assist units at events in order to deepen your understanding of their day-to-day practices. Understanding this will aid you in identifying ways in which assessment can be embedded into their work. This could also justify more intentional collaboration across the division. It will help to prevent over-assessing students who may attend similar events hosted by different units.
This was all rather easy for me because I worked within my current institution’s division of student affairs for four years prior to overseeing all divisional assessment. My rapport with staff was pre-existing.
However, if you do the above actions, you too will be able to develop a connection and collaborative effort with directors and staff.
2. Educate staff
After building rapport, it’s time to educate staff on the different components of assessment.
But first, it’s important to understand the resources available to you in conducting assessment. Professional development must be ongoing. Fortunately, most assessment-focused student affairs organizations (such as Student Affairs Assessment Leaders, the ACPA Commission for Assessment and Evaluation; and the NASPA Assessment, Evaluation, and Research Knowledge Community) have listservs, webinars, conferences, books, and much more!
To train staff, creating an assessment professional development curriculum is ideal. The curriculum should align with previous training, allowing staff to build upon their learning.
Here are suggested titles to address common topics in assessment:
- Assessment 101: This workshop or presentation addresses the basics of assessment, terminology, the assessment cycle, the value of assessment, and the role of assessment in accreditation.
- Learning Outcomes and Indicators: Here, you’ll discuss how to write different types of outcomes, such as ones for programs, processes, and performance. Learning outcomes should be in alignment with the purpose of programs and services. Lastly, the workshop should advise participants on how to know when outcomes have been achieved.
- Assessment Measures: This can be broken down into a series in order to address each type of assessment measure.
- Results and Writing the Report: You should outline how to analyze qualitative and quantitative data. Additionally, you should advise participants on how reports should be written. It is a great idea to create a template or use one that has already been made by another institution, though be sure to ask for permission first.
- Improvement planning: Discuss how to develop action plans based on reported data. The fact that student affairs assessment cycle is ongoing should be reinforced throughout all training, especially this one.
3. Follow-up with support
With all that student affairs professionals do on a daily basis, information can easily get lost in emails and notes. Therefore, continuous follow-up is needed within different modes of communication.
Creating a monthly divisional newsletter with an assessment section is a great way of reinforcing what staff should be doing. Be sure to list any upcoming deadlines, and opportunities to attend any workshops, webinars, or other types of training. And during meetings, be sure to carve out time to focus on assessment updates. This will ensure that everyone is on the right timeline for meeting deadlines.
Another great idea is developing templates to support staff, such as ones for surveys or data reports. People love a good template that takes away the overthinking in assessment and is consistent across the division. So, it opens the opportunity to connect with other departments if you have questions and the assessment professional is unavailable.
I established my position to be more of a consultant to staff and carved out times to visit departments each month. Additionally, I ensured that I finished the bulk of work prior to 11 a.m. so that I could be more flexible for staff in the afternoon, whenever needed. Lastly, I created a Doodle account to allow staff to access my calendar and schedule meetings without the need for constant back-and-forth emails.
Assessment can be fun when you make it part of your culture and daily practices. It all begins with a willingness to build rapport with others, maintain consistent training and development, and be supportive and collaborative in your efforts.