How a Light Bulb Moment Inspired Us to Create a Game-Changing Course

How a Light Bulb Moment Inspired Us to Create a Game-Changing Course

Have you ever had a light bulb go off in your head after a couple years of doing the same thing? That’s what happened to us, and ultimately, what led us to creating something that turned out to be a valuable experience. 


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Our assessment office was roughly two years old and housed five full-time staff, four of whom were heavily involved in day-to-day consultations with colleagues across 20+ departments within our student affairs division. Within the first 2 years of consultations, I would repeatedly get asked remarkably similar questions: How do I build a survey? What learning outcomes should I use for my program? How do I create an assessment plan? What do I do with the data that I have?... 


As one of our departmental strategies is “capacity building,” our team figured that we would start offering one-hour workshops to Division staff on topics related to writing learning outcomes, survey design, and basic use of the Qualtrics survey platform. While the sessions we offered were well attended, we felt like we needed to offer something more comprehensive. We needed to offer an opportunity for our colleagues to not only grasp the “how-to” of assessment (how to write an outcome, design a good survey, etc.), but a chance to explore the big picture of assessment and connect the dots of theory and practice.


The light bulb that went off? Offer a course that covers relevant assessment topics that Division employees can use to help build and maintain a culture of assessment within their units. This, we imagined, would help fill a knowledge gap and shift organizational culture to make assessment a more embedded practice within everyday work. 


Many of our Division colleagues, even those who had student affairs or higher education graduate training, had never taken an assessment course. So, the in-house course would offer an accessible option for staff and graduate students in our student affairs division who had no prior assessment expertise. Over the period of about a year, we powered through several stages of developing the course before getting to our final phase of course delivery. 


The Stages




This stage was the most critical as it laid the foundation of our course. During this phase, we engaged in information gathering and competency mapping. Using our Division’s Assessment Team (A-Team) as a focus group, we jotted down key competencies that they thought they should have as assessment liaisons. We then went through a mapping exercise using ACPA’s ASK Standards and ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies, where the final product was a giant spreadsheet identifying connections between competencies across the two documents. We dove into discussion about how we could organize the competencies in a way that would make sense for our Division, then created a document delineating assessment competencies for three distinct groups: 1) employees who do not have assessment written in their job descriptions, but are expected to do some assessment work, 2) assessment liaisons for their departments, and 3) leaders/directors of departments. Based on our Division’s needs at the time, we focused primarily on competencies associated with the first group, which we labeled “All Student Affairs Practitioners.” Consequently, the course would consist of a broad range of foundational assessment topics. 



Using the list of competencies relevant to the “All Student Affairs Practitioners” group, we crafted a 6-session long curriculum that covered core assessment topics: the assessment cycle, history of assessment in student affairs, key terms and concepts, outcomes, survey design, focus groups & interviews, quantitative analysis, qualitative analysis, reporting results, ethical considerations, and departmental assessment planning. Once we finalized our topics, we aligned the competencies we decided we would focus on with each session and topic area. The name we chose for our course? “Getting Savvy with Assessment!”



It took us several months to curate the content we wanted to include in each session. We drew from student affairs assessment work, scholarly articles, methodology textbooks, and of course, our own experiences as assessment professionals. We crafted learning outcomes, presentation materials, and activities for each session. We also provided out-of-classroom assignments such as discussion boards and module quizzes. The last session of the course was reserved for their final assessment project – a culmination of applying what they learned to work that they were already doing. 


Course Delivery 

The 6 sessions occurred over the period of one academic semester, and each session spanned about 3 hours. Because we first introduced the course in 2021 when social distancing was the norm, all sessions were facilitated via Zoom (which forced us to be extra creative so that participants could stay engaged). All the content was housed on Canvas and could be accessible for the duration of the semester and several months beyond. We even created a facilitator guide, a roughly 100-page document with a teaching script for all the sessions, and a participant guide, a workbook designed to help participants follow along with the course material. Two of our full-time staff and one graduate student took turns facilitating each session. Our inaugural cohort consisted of 18 participants, with 16 successfully completing the course.


How did offering this course benefit our Division?

Offering a course available to Division staff and graduate students aligned well with one of our strategic priorities to build assessment capacity within our Division. When more student affairs professionals are familiar with fundamental assessment best practices, there is room to go beyond the basics and venture into addressing more complex assessment strategies. We noticed that our colleagues, especially participants of our workshops and course, evolved over time. They asked more insightful questions, could connect theory and practice, and were prepared to address strategic assessment needs of their units. Furthermore, having more assessment minions helped our small team start to shift assessment culture in our Division, where assessment was more of an embedded practice than an afterthought.


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Thinking about doing something like this at your institution?

I can offer some tips and lessons learned throughout the process:

  • Be intentional about your plan. Building a course is more than just putting content together and sharing it. It can be time-consuming, especially if done right. Incorporating intentionality and purpose through the use of feedback from our assessment liaisons as well as competency mapping laid the foundation of our course and gave us direction when developing our content. 
  • Figure out what your colleagues need. This. Is. Important. You could create a well-thought out and well-intentioned product, but if if is not what your colleagues need at the time, then it could be the wrong product.
  • Convey why something like this is important and get buy-in from divisional leaders. When Division staff (including departmental and divisional leaders) are bought into its importance and they can make it a priority, you can get more people to participate, especially with the support of their supervisors. 
  • Offer a hybrid option if you are deciding between virtual or in-person. There are benefits and drawbacks to having just in-person or just virtual sessions. However, A hybrid option (some sessions are virtual, and some are in-person) allows for flexibility and helps maximize engagement if participants have opportunities to interact with their colleagues face-to-face).  
  • Get feedback from course participants and adjust if needed. Obviously. We are assessment professionals, after all. 

Want to learn more about our process and the course? Feel free to reach out to me! I truly - and I do mean truly – enjoy geeking out on assessment because assessment is my jam!


Jerri Berry Danso




American College Personnel Association. (2006). ASK standards: Assessment skills and knowledge content standards for student affairs practitioners and scholars. Retrieved from


American College Personnel Association & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. (2010). ACPA/NASPA professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Retrieved from



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