Finally…sweet summertime! Summer is a great season to plan ahead, re-calibrate, and, for many of us, go on a much needed vacation.
What makes a vacation great? Is it where you go, when you go, or in planning the details? Although this can be subjective, I believe a good vacation encompasses all of the above. Looking from a different vantage point, there are many parallels between a good vacation and a solid assessment plan.
Where to Go?
First, when planning a vacation you start thinking about your destination.
John Doerr (1) in his book, Measure What Matters, includes a great quote from Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” It is the same with assessment; we must begin with the end in mind. Our next step is to drill deeper by asking a few more questions: What do we want to see? What are our goals? Where have we not gone before? Where have we gone before and it went really well? It is helpful to have previous year’s data to look back on and compare. After all, we do not always need to integrate new assessments; sometimes we just need to execute the assessments already in place again and look to leverage the results in different ways.
Timing Can Be Everything
The next very important question to be answered is: when can you go on vacation? Timing of when you can go can definitely impact where to go and what you can do while you’re away! Summer is not always the best time for everyone to travel. An additional aspect to be considered is the weather. There are some places that are great to travel to year-round, but others that have more limited activities during the winter months. For example, if your dream trip is to go skiing or snowboarding, it is best to go in the winter. However, the summer is the best time to go to the beach (especially if you want to actually get in the water!).
This is why it can be important to have an assessment timeline and create time-bound goals. We can know what our goal(s) are but need a timeline to help us stay on track and accountable. Additionally, we can prioritize our goals on our timeline. In creating our timeline, we need to be mindful of institutional ebbs and flows. For example, I have noticed usually around weeks eight and nine of the semesters at my university many professors give tests, mid-terms, or have large papers due. I need to be mindful of this when planning assessment activities. In addition to coursework timing, students can experience survey burn-out, so we should be mindful of how many surveys we plan to administer across campus.
Money, Money, Money!
What is your budget? As you are planning your vacation in advance, knowing how much you can spend allows you to start setting aside money each month towards a vacation fund.
The budget for both vacation and assessment are important to consider. The type of assessment and/or assessment activities may have budgetary constraints. We need to know how many resources are allocated in the budget towards assessment since various assessment tools may require a financial investment. As our department’s plan a budget, we can weigh in on the value of assessment and the investment in some of these resources for tools and/or incentives. If we are not able to receive funds, there are many creative and intuitive things we can do to assess our students. It is vital for us to partner and collaborate with other departments especially if we are seeking to obtain the same information. Once the budget is established, you can decide what’s feasible based on the resources you have.
It is all in the Details
There are often two types of individuals who go on vacation: (1) the “planners” who want to outline every detail prior to leaving and (2) the “spontaneous” who tend to be more flexible, and would rather decide what to do once they arrive at their destination. For example, the Grand Canyon is a place where you could go on vacation and have a planned or spontaneous trip. You can still see a lot there with a spontaneous trip and I encourage everyone to go as the Grand Canyon is a beautiful place! However, if you want to hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon you need to be prepared. Furthermore, if you want to stay at the lodge at the bottom, you have to make your reservations often over a year in advance.
In assessment, we need to take on the role of the “planners”, but with a degree of flexibility. It is vital for us to know our objectives, goals, and the steps we are planning to reach them. Linda Suskie notes, (2) when assessing learning in co-curricular experiences, it is important to ensure every co-curricular experience has a clear purpose and clear goals. Additionally, we need to keep the large picture, such as the institutional goals, in mind as we aim for intentional data collection. We can focus the co-curricular experience on an institutional learning goal such as interpersonal skills, professionalism, or problem solving. However, we need to be flexible and willing to adapt when change is necessary. For example, your team may have targeted one institutional learning goal to measure, but reviewing the previous year’s assessment data shows a greater need to address a different institutional goal. Being flexible involves adjusting your programming as necessary to address the need the data speaks to.
Before vacation, it is wise to research and gather information on where you are going. This will help you decide what activities you will participate in and know what’s available in the surrounding area. This helps you have an idea of what will be the best fit for you and your family. If you have children, you will also want to consider what is age-appropriate for them. Similarly, in assessment we need to think about how we will use the data we obtain. Who is our intended audience? What information does our audience care about the most? How will we use the data gathered to create more effective and sustainable programs? Just like the vacation pre-work, thinking of how data will be used should be done before the activity itself since it can inform methodology and timeline.
Finalize and Review
Once you have decided where and when you are going on your vacation, the time comes to finalize the trip. You secure the place to stay, potential flight, rental car, etc. As you commit to the investment of a vacation, commit to invest in yourself. Dedicate time to invest in your physical wellness (through rest), social wellness (through time with family and friends), and digital wellness (by using your technological devices less often... unplug when you can!). I personally made a commitment to do these three things on my last vacation and came back to work feeling so refreshed! In assessment, once we commit to the plan, we need to communicate with those involved and our stakeholders to be intentional in delegating tasks and dedicating time to carry the plan to fruition.
Finally, once you are back home, it is important to share your experience. Write your review, and share your story to help others enjoy or discover similar experiences! Just as we do for vacation, in the assessment world, we need to tell our story and share our experiences to help each other grow and learn. What did you learn? We should think about tips we would give others so they can have a similar if not better experience. A lot of times we learn about ourselves, family members, about the culture or history. Parallel to assessment, we need to include interpretation and reflection in our reports, as well as make an action based plan with the information we learned.
As you plan or dream about your next vacation, remember to plan out where and when you can go. Likewise, assessment should begin with the end in mind and consider our objectives and goals of what we want to accomplish to help guide the approach. Remember to consider the budget and then you can finalize the details, similar to being creative with the resources and partnerships you have. Finally, make sure to review your experience and share with others.
Which part of assessment planning resonates with you the most? What experiences and lessons learned can you share with others? And, finally, does anyone have summer vacation plans you want to share?
- Doerr, J. E. (2018). Measure what matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation rock the world with OKRs. NY, NY: Portfolio/Penguin.
- Suskie, L. (2017, August 08). Assessing learning in co-curricular expereinces [Web log post]. Retrieved June 10, 2019, from https://www.lindasuskie.com/apps/blog/show/44719458-assessing-learning-in-co-curricular-experiences
Bethany Williams, Liberty University