What Motivates You to Engage in Assessment and does it Matter?

What Motivates You to Engage in Assessment and does it Matter?



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I was recently in a meeting when the subject of faculty and staff attitudes towards assessment came up in the conversation.  The discussion evolved into a debate about whether it is important that university employees value, or embrace, assessment or is it enough that they have a basic understanding of assessment and how to incorporate it into their work and meet identified assessment-related deliverables (e.g., identifying annual goals for an office; creating and implementing an assessment plan).  The opinions on this question varied and the meeting ended without a clear consensus.

Since the time that the above conversation took place, I have been thinking more about attitudes regarding assessment.  Specifically, as someone who is responsible for coordinating divisional assessment efforts, I am happy when I hear each department has an identified assessment plan and is regularly engaged in an evaluation of their work.  But, does it really matter how staff feel about assessment?   I’ll be the first to admit there are some tasks I complete as part of my job that I don’t enjoy.  Is it okay if assessment falls into that type of category for people? Is there any harm to viewing assessment as just another task to complete?

These musings eventually led me to consider this question as part of a larger query about the role of motivation in our work.  In his book Drive, Daniel Pink examines motivation and argues that the ‘carrot and stick’ approach (i.e., rewarding things we view as positive and punishing what we don’t like) can certainly be effective for some tasks, but that it can be “devastating” for others.  Specifically, he argues that tasks involving new or unusual situations, especially those lending themselves to creativity, are not well-suited to being driven by external motivators. Rather, intrinsic (i.e., internal) motivation provides a context that best serves these types of tasks.  

If we apply the concept of motivation to the original debate about attitudes regarding assessment, we could say there are some people who are extrinsically motivated to engage in assessment.  These are individuals who may view assessment-related activities as part of their jobs and complete these as something they “have to do”. Assessment, for the extrinsically motivated, is viewed as another item to check off a list – for example, you just finished training resident assistants on how to respond to students in crisis (check) and then you administer a quick survey to see if your learning outcomes were achieved (check).  You can then use that data to provide support for the efficacy of your program or to make some adjustments to the training for future iterations. This doesn’t seem problematic on the surface; however, I wonder the following: if the same person in this example was intrinsically motivated to engage in assessment, would this scenario look different and, if so, in what way(s)?

At the time of the conversation that began my musings on this topic, I thought it didn’t matter what motivated people to engage in assessment.  At a basic level, I channeled Nike’s “Just Do It” mantra and was pleased to witness assessment efforts happening. But, now I think there could be something lost in this approach.  Assessment isn’t a routine, plug-in-the-data type of enterprise. It involves strategic thinking and problem solving and creativity. It also involves a sense of purpose – of recognizing the bigger picture and the ultimate goal of our work.  Can we achieve this from a purely extrinsically motivated approach? I am thinking carrots and sticks might not be enough. What do you think?

Melinda Stoops, Boston College 

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