For those of you who do not know, I came to love assessment right after graduate school when I had the opportunity to work at Wake Forest University and serve on the Campus Life Assessment Committee as a new professional. Assessment and research were fairly new to me. I used to complain about how difficult assessment can be on a college campus and how it took time away from students. However, after serving on the campus committee, I started to learn assessment as a manner of channeling my inner problem solver strengths, and, I fell in love.
These are 5 tips (although not the only ones out there) that you can take to heart when preparing and understanding assessment in your role. Feel free to reach out if you would like me to elaborate on any of these methods by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Number 1: Use event swiping, tracking software to look at the time students are attending.
There are so many times as a professional that I was encouraged to look at the number of students attending my events. But as I started planning and considering funding for these events (I worked at two campuses with a total annual event planning budget of less than $40,000), I knew I needed to know more.
There are some great tools out there that are free if you are using this for a a single event. At Agnes Scott College and Wake Forest University, we used Eventbrite to track attendance at our campus late night events. Through our tracking, we discovered students began showing up at the event an hour after it started. This was no surprise to me because students told me this, and I have seen this as a trend in the field for the campuses on which I served. However, to have the numbers to show those I reported to was a great way to talk through how we were staffing the event. We had to pay for event staff, catering staff (and sometimes bartenders) for each event, and by doing so, at Agnes Scott College, I was able to negotiate with vendors and ask them to provide partial staff at the beginning of the event, and then bring on additional staff during the 11:30pm to 1:30am timeframe.
Eventbrite Example: (Click on the photo to view more)
Some other great softwares that can you use are a simple excel log of students and the time they show up, as well as, Check I’m Here is a great campus engagement tool that not only tracks attendance, but also, connects the assessment with engagement and retention in an easy to view, and student and staff friendly interface.
Another example of this was recently a Dalton State College, my colleagues and students discovered the library on our heavily commuter based campus was packed at 11:30pm the week before finals, which led to our change of a 5pm start time for our annual Food for Finals event, to a new 11pm start time. Students were excited to see that this type of observation could play a key role in their attendance and event appreciation. Which brings me to number 2…
Number 2: Keep your students and faculty involved with and informed of the process.
Students are in college to prepare for life after college. Life after college involves assessment. Also, students are already doing research in some of their core courses.
Often as a students affairs professional I hear complaints about how the academic side of higher education is not always appreciating us, and/or connecting with our goals and initiatives. But in reality, students and faculty are doing assessment in a number of courses and special projects. Why not connect with a Psychology course, Wellness course, or other faculty on campus to see if they can connect with your team to do a focus group, research project, or simple assessment as a win win for everyone. At Wake Forest University, we had a great team of faculty who aided through assigning one of their semester research courses to tackle and understand student engagement on the campus. That same year, a student union student of mine, who was interested in student affairs, worked with her Health and Wellness professor to create a Karaoke event. At this event, they assessed students’ stress levels prior to the start of the event, and then implemented a post assessment toward the end of the event to see how the stress levels had changed, if any. Their finding concluded the students were less stressed, and this gave the students planning and in the class the drive to continue to promote more of these events on campus.
These are just a couple of examples of times where I have found success in collaboration and communication with faculty and staff. My favorite part of working with college students is watching them grow and seeing their eyes light up when they see progress. By having them engaged and involved in the assessment process, you are helping students create better events, and grow professionally.
Shameless post: I really want those heart rate monitors like they have on Quantico to use on students at an event to see how their stress levels are impacted. Or even during the entire year. If only ?
Number 3: Documentation and story telling are your best friend.
When I talk to some professionals, they are overwhelmed by tracking and the dreaded “annual report”. But the truth is, you are likely assessing something every day, you just are not documenting it to show appropriate tracking and to share your story.
If you are not familiar with Story telling, here is my definition, but I encourage you to research if you want to learn more.
Story telling is a means of sharing all that you have discovered, assessed, and/or created during a period of time. Some tell stories annually, monthly, and even weekly. Some do it digitally through online web tools and websites, some create poster boards, online blogs, present at conferences and workshops, and others just literally make it their goal to share with others every opportunity they have. The time frame and manner is up to you, but the most important aspect, is that you are telling your story so not only others can be motivated, but they can also benefit from your discoveries, as well as, hold you accountable to continue your progress. Story telling, although it can happen at any time, is popular to share when you are “closing the loop” on your assessment.
A few great examples (besides annual reports) I have used or seen in my time:
- Assessment Showcase – Student affairs professionals at Wake Forest University were invited to set up a table and share their stories in visual or digital display, and talk with each other about these projects.
- Sharing quotes from student leaders – At Agnes Scott College, I held personal interviews at the middle of the fall semester and towards the end of the spring semester to understand how each of my programming board students were developing professionally and personally, as well as, how they understood the role of the Programming Board. From this assessment, I documented the entire conversation (this is timely by the way, but much needed in my role at the time). From this, I was able to take and share quotes from the students about what they thought the role of Programming Board was on campus, which more than half related their goals to relieving stress and providing opportunities to aid the Mental Health of their fellow students. This was a perfect way to show that the students and I were all working toward the same goal and understood their roles.
- Campus Newsletter, Blog, or sharing site – this is a form of story telling I found when I did my research on story telling and that I have not used extensively. The premise is that you share graphs, stories of success, quotes, tools, etc to your colleagues. The outcomes are similar to the assessment showcase I mentioned, however, you can take this a step further with encouraging colleagues to build off of each other’s results. (See number 4.)
Number 4: Don’t reinvent the wheel.
More than likely, the campus you are at has others completing regular assessments already. Your campus has institutional data, as well as, a detailed student base that you can pull from to receive information from your students so that you don’t have to ask them a million questions. One example I used recently, is I sent a list of attendees from our Food for Finals event to our institutional data staff member. From the student ID numbers, he was able to send me information showing how many students lived on and off campus so I could understand who I should target for the event.
So many times, we make our assessment and surveys long in order to gather information about our students that we already have. Stop doing this. There is one reason that this would be necessary, and that is if you are trying to have the students’ identity remain anonymous. Keep in mind, if this is the goal, that the more questions you ask about class year, gender, housing, etc, you start to remove that anonymity.
Besides receiving institutional and student data, another great tool for campuses to utilize is a database to keep all of their data, such as Check I’m Here (I mentioned earlier), a campus internal website where colleagues can post their results, and/or an assessment calendar that shows not only when assessments are happening (so you prevent over assessing your students), but also, what types and who the contact is so colleagues can reach out to each other and prevent assessing the same areas.
Check I’m Here Assessment Visual (Click on the photo to visit and understand assessment features that are offered.)
Here’s an example:
Your Residence Life just conducted a focus group on campus meal options, in which students generated statements about their feelings towards their on campus dining options. These statements were generated through open and qualitative conversation so they are genuine and students can relate. One of the statements generated was, “As a vegan student, I have a hard time not only finding items to eat at the dining hall, but also at campus events.” As a student life professional, you can use this statement on your next assessment and understand how many students agree with it. This is great because you know it is a problem that was mentioned and you are not generating questions or problems that haven’t presented themselves.
Another easy example, you just completed a campus wide survey asking students what types of events they felt most connected to on campus, and you had a 30% response rate, (good for you). You now have some insight and you can tweak some of your student activities to meet those students needs. But wait, there is a new Diversity and Inclusion Office that just opened up and they want to see what areas students are not feeling included in on campus events. Rather than having them create their own survey, you decide to sit down and talk through your results with them and see if there are any trends that might be relevant, or areas where you can deeper assess the needs based on previous responses. It is a great partnership and you avoid asking students the same questions, and come up with a game plan to tweak the next assessment to include both of your goals.
All I’m asking, is for you to stop over-asking. I have learned this in more ways than one, if you ask someone what you can do better, they will have something to share every time. This is great, but often steers us away from the bigger areas we need to focus on. Be intentional, work with your colleagues, pull from data that is out there, communicate, and if money allows, invest in some great software to help not only you, but your entire campus connect, see, and compare data. Retention and success depend on this.
Number 5: Stop being intimidated by the process.
I know for some of you I threw out some terms you may not be familiar with or failed to elaborate on areas and this article may not have helped you at all. (I’m sorry, this blog post was already too long).
What I really want you to focus on, is understanding that assessment is perhaps the most important part of what we do because it impacts development (which is what we want for our students), success (another want) and budgets (which we need more of). As you can see from my post, there are so many ways to assess that don’t cost a thing, there are experts on your campus just waiting for you to stop by and pick their brains, and there is amazing software out there like Check I’m Here that once you begin using, you will find ways to better utilize your funding and in turn, pay for the product. This also helps you and your team work smarter not harder. (And before you decide on a tool, get feedback and make sure your team is going to use it, sometimes there is great software out there that is difficult to use, and your colleagues won’t use it. Check I’m here is easy and I am in love with the product so that is why I encourage you to research it. I have worked with other softwares that were great, but took too much time to understand. Ultimately, I was the only one in the office looking at it, which doesn’t make for team effort)
My journey with assessment first started with a research course (not the way to start by the way, professors please take note.) This course was amazing in teaching me the rules and regulations around research and assessment, as well as, how to properly understand qualitative versus quantitative analysis. However, my understanding grew ten fold when I started looking at my passions, and the problems on my campus that myself, my students, and colleagues wanted to solve. And ultimately, it started by taking baby steps to understand them and then, tackle them. It’s all about baby steps.
So, get out there and take that baby step if you have not already. Don’t be afraid, and know how much of an impact you have on this field. It is never too late to start. So start now and comment below, post to the world on social media, email a colleague, talk with your boss, your team, your students, just do something, and start today! (You know in January you will be back to the whirlwind.)
Thanks for reading, and I welcome feedback, as I am by no means an expert.
❤ – Jonna Leanne
Disclaimer: This article was written based solely on my personal and professional experiences and was not aided by any institutions or companies.