By: Megan Forecki
Have you ever found yourself thinking “I just don’t have time for assessment!”?
As a young professional, I understood the importance that assessment and evaluation has in higher education, but the thought of actually starting an assessment project felt monumental. Questions that seemed particularly daunting included (but were not limited to) Where do I start? What do I assess? I have to assess all of this?! Who do I talk to? Is a survey appropriate or should I use something else? If I used something else, what would that even be?! With all these questions swirling in my head, I decided I “just didn’t have time for assessment” when in reality, I was just overwhelmed with where to begin.
Fortunately, I was able to break through the barrier, and get informed on how to design quality assessment. I can honestly say that I could not imagine performing my current role without assessment. It has offered valuable insight into student retention based on program involvement, identified where more staff attention is needed, and provided necessary evidence to the value of our programs and services that we can use in funding discussions. Below are some “quick fixes” to overcoming the “I don’t have time” (or “I don’t know where to start”) barrier to assessment.
1. CONNECT WITH YOUR SUPERVISOR
In order to find time for assessment, it is critical that your unit, and specifically, your supervisor, support you in your efforts to improve programs, services, and processes through assessment. To start this meeting, communicate the importance of assessment in offering the best possible experience for our students. Without identifying where our holes are, we are not unable to create better programs and services that speak to the needs of our students. Furthermore, communicating results can garner some positive publicity for the unit, and provide an opportunity to share accomplished goals. Your supervisor should be willing to support you if they understand how assessment can be a benefit for your unit.
In addition to communicating importance, involve your supervisor and coworkers in the process! Ask your supervisor and colleagues to hold you accountable to meeting your assessment goals. This could be weekly updates at team meetings, or a monthly report about what you have accomplished thus far. Knowing that others are counting on you, can also help keep you on track.
2. IDENTIFY WHERE TO ACTUALLY START – YOU CAN DO THIS!
First, remember why we do assessment, and remind yourself that you are committed to creating the best student experience possible – which we can only be sure is happening through assessment! Second, identify one program or service that you want to assess. No one should expect you to assess all your programs and services in any short period of time. Quality assessment takes time, dedication, and focus. Scaling back to concentrate on one program or service can help make the whole process feel more manageable. Third, think about what exactly is it that you want to know about this program or service? What are you hoping this assessment will accomplish? Once you have identified your program or service, and what you’d like to assess about that program or service, you are ready to create your “assessment plan!”
3. HAVE AN ASSESSMENT PLAN
Just googling “university assessment plan” produces a plethora of examples and templates that can be modified to fit your needs. Starting writing out your plan, based on the templates, in detail. This exercise will make you feel more comfortable as there will be specific action steps for accomplishing your goals. Your well designed plan will ensure that you hit all the necessary steps, especially those related to communicating findings and closing the assessment loop (See: The Assessment Cycle). Also, an added bonus to having a plan is that once you have completed one assessment project, designing other projects becomes significantly easier!
4. CHANGE YOUR SPACE: ADVENTURE AWAITS!
In student affairs and higher education, it is common for our schedules and offices to be filled with meetings, emails, student questions, and many other work responsibilities that require our immediate attention. With all these competing obligations, it becomes difficult to focus on designing assessment in the space that offers a myriad of distractions. To overcome this barrier, chat with your supervisor, and schedule some time on your calendar in the morning or afternoon away from your office, in a space you can concentrate. Clear your mind during this time, and give your full attention to creating an assessment strategy.
5. MENTION ASSESSMENT & FIND NEW FRIENDS!
If you have an assessment office, ask to meet with them! During this meeting, you don’t need to have a full plan developed. Come with an idea of what you’d like to assess and why. Your university’s assessment team can help you define what learning/programmatic outcomes might look like, and what your assessment plan may include.
If you do not have an assessment office on your campus, try to connect with folks around campus who value and design assessment. We all attend meetings in very different areas of the university, and before starting or leaving a meeting, ask a colleague about their assessment practices. Find out who usually oversees this area, and connect with those people. Sharing ideas for assessment in a group can help you create a better assessment plan, and actually improve or modify your methods for data collection.
This blog was derived from The Student Affairs Collaborative Blog, “A Guide to Overcoming the “I don’t have time” Assessment Barrier.”
Megan Forecki is the Assistant Director for Services within Student Governance and Programs at the University of Arizona. Within her role, she oversees clubs and organizations, volunteer programs, funding opportunities for graduate students, and other student service related areas. She also manages the assessment efforts for the Associated Students of the University of Arizona (ASUA) and Graduate Professional Student Council (GPSC).