Intentional (adjective): done with intention or on purpose; intended; deliberate; planned.
A term we frequently start with when hosting assessment trainings or workshops. While we teach about assessment as being most effective when its integrated into the day to day work of our roles, what we often lack in emphasis is the tremendous amount of intentionality (thought, purpose, planning, and strategy) keeping the gears turning behind each integrated stage of the assessment cycle.
Within the ethos of SAAL, we reflect on the importance of intentionality as a value that propels us forward to advance assessment rigor and trustworthiness by interrogating assumptions in our approaches and challenging what is valid and real about the student experience. This post takes a deeper look at the meaning of intentionality and how it is threaded throughout each stage of the assessment cycle.
To begin or not to begin the assessment cycle?
Intentionality starts with identifying which part of the assessment cycle to start with. Various times, we are called to the table to assist in new institutional programs and endeavors by collecting and analyzing data as a resource for departments. Before we fold these thoughts and actions into launching an assessment cycle, think intentionally about whether we already hold the requested knowledge. What large data sets can we access that have already asked these pertinent questions? How can we utilize analytic features we already have woven into our systems to learn about our community? If we do not readily hold the requested information, do we know another colleague who does and will assist in collaboration? Looking for opportunities to weave together existing knowledge threads, can save time, resources, and assessment fatigue for our institutions.
Establish or revise goal or outcome
In this first step of establishing the “why” and the “what” of the assessment, we ensure that the assessment cycle’s foundation is in alignment with the institution's goals. In developing programmatic learning outcomes, we’ll jointly identify the links between the program’s outcomes and the established divisional learning outcomes, which have already been created in alignment with the institution's mission and strategic plan.
Additionally, our assessment’s “why” and “what” should align with standards provided by our institution's accreditation agencies and student affairs professional bodies that establish best practices, such as CAS, NASPA, and ACPA. Intentionality in involving these standards at the start of the cycle creates a foundation for assessment that organizational best practices.
Provide Learning Experience
You’ve established your learning outcomes, in alignment with your institution’s goals and professional frameworks. Now, map the learning outcomes to tangible learning interventions and develop an understanding of the breadth and depth of experiences for development offered (Maki, 2010). Reflecting on Alaska PEAK, the student employment learning and mentoring framework at the University of Alaska Anchorage as an example, we as supervisors, must be mindful to ensure that the employment experience and work opportunities we are providing to students align with the outcomes we laid out for them. If we say students will be able to implement conflict resolution and mediation techniques as a result of their on-campus employment experience, how are we being intentional in creating opportunities for them to learn about mediation strategies, exposing them to diverse examples to illustrate effective application of each strategy, and engaging them in reflective dialogue about that learning experience. Similarly, how are we first communicating these learning outcomes and expectations early, as an integrated part of the onboarding process? Threading the intentionality of the learning outcome through to the learning experience is also imperative in ensuring students have an equitable opportunity to achieve that outcome.
Determine Assessment Method
Intentionality continues in our selection of assessment methods. It is essential to select and utilize methods that best evaluate the development and learning we are measuring, and are appropriate for the learning environment and any possible constraints. Leverage direct measures when possible to give students the opportunity to display their knowledge and practice learning competencies. At this point in the cycle, we practice intentionality towards the “how” and the “who.” Do we need a randomized sample or are we assessing students involved in a specific learning experience? How large is the sample size? Are our outcomes best assessed through quantitative or qualitative measures or would mixed methods be appropriate? Is our method inclusive and culturally appropriate? Is our language clear and representative of diverse perspectives? Think ahead about how you are going to use the data and what you really need to know.
Join us next week as we continue threading intentionality throughout the assessment cycle. How do you stay present in the assessment cycle? Where do you see opportunities to place greater intentionality in the process?
Amy Corron, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Whitney Brown, University of Alaska Anchorage