As the last few months have shifted our world into this new virtual and remote environment, we are treading through ambiguity. This novel virus has abruptly brought us to a pause. In both serious and lighthearted ways, leaders have emerged to provide comfort and a glimmer of hope that this current reality is only temporary. However, the world as we used to know has irreversibly changed. This has forced Student Affairs assessment professionals and other higher education assessment folks to rethink and reinvigorate our overall mission, which is to support, foster, and build an assessment culture.
The SAAL Blog Team thought it was an opportune time to provide you some tips, strategies, and reflections on how sheltering in place is a great time for getting back to the assessment basics. As SAAL Professional Development Chair, Joe Levy mentioned in his recent blog publication, focusing on assessment fundamentals and virtual assessment ideas:
“The path forward may be more familiar and comfortable for you than initially thought. Don’t let assessment be a stressor; let it be a supportive form of insight to help you make data-informed decisions that’ll best support student learning and development”
We hope this blog can be a form of inspiration, pique your interests, and be a call to action at the same time to remind you that we are all in this together. And we want to help you continue to focus on building an assessment culture even in the midst of a global pandemic.
If you’re open to advice, we have a few suggestions.
Lesson 1: Clear out the clutter and conserve resources
If you haven’t been spending 6 hours a day in Zoom meetings while home-schooling 3 kids, you may have found some time to clean out your junk drawers and kitchen cabinets. If you were lucky, you scored a bag of rice or a surprise box of Girl Scout cookies. More likely, however, you found yourself thinking, “what possessed me to keep this?”
We need to clean our assessment cabinets, perhaps literally in some cases, but mostly figuratively. Do we know why we are asking for all the items on all our surveys? Do we ask for self-reported data (such as demographics or academic standing) that we could easily get from an institutional data warehouse? More importantly, do we use all the data we collect? Did something get added to a survey or annual report because it was a pet project of three-VPs-ago and it just carries over from one year to the next?
Conversely, while taking a closer look at survey and report items, you might run across a hidden gem or treasure of sorts. Maybe an old paper-and-pencil survey got put on the shelf (again, literally or figuratively) and could now be revived and reconfigured for a social media platform. Maybe you stopped reporting on attendance in favor of more robust outcome measures, but now those old attendance counts could be a valuable baseline for #thenewnormal.
With time on our hands, we dusted off these past blog posts for more ideas:
Lesson 2: Check your newsfeeds obsessively
OK, probably not great advice for surviving a pandemic with your sanity and morale intact, but quite useful as an assessment strategy. Staying on top of social media enables you to spot trends, keep up with institutional initiatives (especially if you work at a large or multi-campus institution), and mitigate rumors, innuendo, misinformation or hostility before they spread too far.
We thought we would repost these memories from our timeline:
Lesson 3: Find new ways to connect
Many semantic distinctions are being made about the difference between “online learning” and “remote instruction.” The same can be said for service delivery. Spring 2020 should not go down in history as the semester we all moved online, because that is not what is really happening right now. We are sinking or swimming, building the plane as we are flying it, sticking our fingers in the dam … pick your tired analogy. There are, however, good models and standards for online learning, activities, experiences and service delivery. As we move out of crisis mode, hopefully we can explore these avenues in earnest. Maybe we can integrate assessment efforts more seamlessly with our institution’s LMS. Maybe we can ….
Future aside, as we are operating with virtual admissions tours, graduations, etc. – how do we assess effectiveness? In an effort to help answer that question, we re-connected with these past blogs for more ideas:
Lesson 4: Take a walk outside
One of the few positives to come out of the current situation is that folks are getting outside, greeting neighbors from a safe social distance, and appreciating the simplest of pleasures like fresh air and sunshine. We need to take assessment outdoors as well (again, literally and figuratively). We need to think outside our traditional methods, and we need to physically take assessment outside. In the business world, the concept of Management by Wandering Around gained currency in the 1980s, along with the Total Quality Management movement, but is still practiced today.
We took another lap around these past blogs:
Lesson 5: Wash your hands
As we cleanse our hands, let’s use this as a time to renew our focus on building an assessment culture. In the last six weeks, we have heard comments about the need for assessment to take a back seat among other pressing issues we are coping with on our campuses. However, we believe that there is a better message. One in which we are there to assist our colleagues in navigating a virtual campus environment by reminding them about the foundations of assessment planning. One of those foundations is the assessment cycle. An assessment cycle builds from the mission of a given organization/program and/or experience and with each step of the process, we learn and and begin to use this feedback to build upon this cycle. Similar to a ‘rinse and repeat’ in regards to washing one’s hands, the assessment cycle helps our colleagues continue to do their work, while still attending to understanding what is working and how to best meet the needs of students, staff, faculty and the community during shelter in place. We can assist in assessment measures
We thought these posts deserved a rinse and repeat!
Lesson 6: Science reveals (student) truth.
The contributions of the assessment cycle to data-based decision-making may be even more important now than ever. Assessment is science, as Kuhn (1970) would define it as a socially constructed, agreed-upon paradigm of knowledge. We educators want to continue to meet the needs of our students, and we are in a novel setting to think beyond traditional methods. Student truths today will be different than they were two months ago. We can reach out to students with our assessment instruments and show them we care and want to listen. Members of the SAA-LEADERS listserv have recently offered several valid and reliable survey instruments to administer to our students to gather data and inform our internal practices. We can involve students in our assessment planning, data collection, analysis, and taking action. Thus we will assure students that we will take what they tell us and make the improvements that we can, and pass along those that others can act on. Outreach, whether it is one-to-one or through a COVID-19 survey, shows students we care. After critical incidents such as the pandemic’s disruption in our universities, teams always debrief and make improvements. The student voice is the most important member of our team. Now is the time for Team Assessment to shine.
In summary: Many hands make light work.
Each of us has experienced the pandemic in our own ways: Personally, professionally, institutionally, geographically, politically, and spiritually. Our voices came together through typing on keyboards from coast to coast. We believe this post is richer for the diversity of our experiences and perspectives, and it will be richer still when we hear from you!
SAAL Blog Team