The Power of Collaboration in Assessment Efforts

The Power of Collaboration in Assessment Efforts

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” (Helen Keller)

I recently sent a survey to all Student Affairs employees at my University.  Within minutes, I received an email from a staff member reporting that she completed the survey, but had difficulties with a specific question that required her to endorse one of two presented items.  The problem with that question was that neither of those two items applied to her. There should have been a third item, “neither of the above”. Unfortunately, there wasn’t.

I’m sure many of you have experienced the agony of realizing a survey is flawed in some way after you have distributed it.  In this particular case, that agony was just a few short minutes after the joy of having finally sent the survey out. Sadly, this survey flaw was something that could have been prevented, if only I had collaborated with someone on that survey.  Of course, I had previewed the survey to ensure all items were working as they should and, in that process, even the question of concern looked good to me. It looked good because, from my perspective, I could endorse one of the two items. In that moment, I did not step outside of my perspective to imagine that someone else in my division could have possibly answered the question in a way that wasn’t a provided option.  

The above situation is a clear example of the value of collaboration in survey design.  Had I invited others to review a draft of the survey, I may have been given feedback about that troublesome question and avoided the resulting problems.  As we consider our work in assessment and all of the moving parts involved in the process, there are multiple points at which collaboration can be beneficial.  If we approach assessment as a collaborative effort from the start – and not just a nice end-of-project feedback request – we stand to benefit in ways beyond the avoidance of error.  We have the potential to increase efficiency, broaden perspective, and establish new campus connections.

If you are interested in establishing relationships with campus colleagues to facilitate your assessment efforts, here are some areas of potential benefit:

  1. Connect with others to build assessment momentum.

Partnering with colleagues who share your enthusiasm for assessment has multiple benefits.  It provides you with a support network, gives you connections who can provide you with feedback and assistance, and spreads the word of the value of assessment.  Specific areas for collaboration include:

  • Developing an assessment team within your division:  establishing an assessment team with a representative from each department within the division sends the message that assessment is a priority.  It also allows you to examine departmental assessment efforts within a shared context of divisional goals and priorities and allows a shared response to needs (e.g., training, resources).

  • Creating a campus-wide assessment team:  an assessment team with representatives from across different divisions and functional areas dramatically increases the breadth of experience, expertise, and perspectives on assessment.  This team can examine big-picture efforts (e.g., assessment related to accreditation) and also create pathways for collaboration across disciplines.

  1. Connect with others to get access to data.

Establish a relationship with your institutional research office:  although this office may be identified by a different name at different campuses (e.g., institutional research, institutional effectiveness, etc…), each campus should have an office that gathers data for institutional reporting and research efforts.  This office has a wealth of data and may be more than happy to share some of it with you. For example, this office could assist you in providing demographic data of students to allow you to compare students participating in a current initiative to the entire student body.  The office may also have data from benchmarking surveys that could be useful in understanding campus strengths and challenges to assist you in identifying needs and learning outcomes.

  1. Connect with others to get hands-on assistance with your assessment project(s).

Partner with faculty:  review course offerings in various departments to identify any assessment-related courses that are offered.  Reach out to faculty of such courses to identify whether they require students to complete an assessment project.  Students are often looking for real-world projects to complete for a course. Partnering with an assessment course may allow you to get assistance with your assessment efforts, while helping a student who needs an assessment project.  

Collaborations such as the above can be helpful in not only increasing the efficiency and robustness of your assessment efforts, but the relationships themselves can serve as ongoing fuel to sustain your interest and learning in the area of assessment.

What types of collaborations have you established to facilitate your assessment efforts?  Share your experience by commenting on this Blog.

Melinda Stoops, Boston College

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