Academic and Student Affairs assessment professionals have many common interests and challenges, but don’t always know how to connect with one another. Imagine a “dating app” for promoting assessment collaboration.
Would you think these two would be a match? Do you think they see enough similarities or common elements to be interested in knowing more about the other?
If you are @AssessmentNewbie, you are likely to “kiss a lot of frogs” before you find your true @ProfessorAssessor. And more likely than not, you will need to make the first move, especially if you are based at a large research university. You may find more assessment crossover at small liberal arts colleges and two-year colleges, especially those with LEAP, Achieving the Dream, or other high impact practice initiatives.
Just as you would on a dating app, start with the big thing(s) you have in common and leave the gray areas for a further conversation. Commitment to students unites everyone who works in higher education. The stereotype of faculty who care only about their research is largely a caricature, but to the extent that is true, it is likely a consequence of departmental or institutional pressure rather than personal preference. In the most heavily research-focused universities, you may find a cadre of non-tenure track, teaching faculty (with titles like Instructor, Lecturer, Clinical Faculty, or Academic Professional) who are more closely connected to students and more likely candidates for collaboration and partnership.
Of course, both faculty and other academic affairs professionals have their own stereotypes about Student Affairs. Many perceive (whether fairly or unfairly) that they only hear from you to ask for their precious class time (e.g., to read an announcement or excuse students to participate in activity). If you were initiating contact with someone on a real dating app, you would start with a compliment -- I love your purple hair, your profile cracked me up, or I have Labradoodle, too! So, when you’re reaching out for an academic assessment partner, start the same way. Could your leadership development program benefit from enhanced learning outcomes? Would you like to connect volunteer service to the curriculum in more intentional ways? Flatter the academic assessment folks on your campus by suggesting you could benefit from their expertise. Maybe you read a campus news broadcast about an individual or department that has just received a grant or won an award for something related to your own interests, such as critical thinking or digital literacy. A congratulatory message is a great ice-breaker.
The First Date
Oh, those awkward first date conversations. We either talk too much or too little. I saw a cartoon where a woman is telling her friend, “We talked about everything! Our pets, our nieces and nephews, our favorite songs, where we went to high school …” The friend responds, “Sounds like he was phishing for your passwords!” @AssessmentNewbie will be most animated when talking about programs, programs, programs. Sometimes that enthusiasm is contagious, but remember, it’s a first date. If you see @ProfessorAssessor start to fidget, it’s time to pause and regroup. Conversely, your faculty colleagues have been known to wax poetic (or scientific or historical, etc.) about their disciplines. If you start to feel like you’re attending a lecture rather than conversing with a colleague, ask a question that will bring the focus back to assessment.
If you connected with your academic counterpart in regard to a specific project or initiative, your conversation should flow naturally from there. If not, you probably want to start with the most obvious common ground. When starting a relationship, whether personal or professional, we create bonds over shared experiences and values. Once we have established trust and respect with our partners, we can broach the more sensitive or controversial topics. One such discussion topic might be career competencies or employability skills. Your faculty colleagues may call these “soft skills” which probably makes you cringe, but try not to let that deter you from the conversation. There is a growing body of literature on the need to better prepare students for careers (for example, Noyes & Linder, 2015; Hora, 2016; Jang, 2016; Carbone & Ware, 2017). Faculty and academic assessment professionals are increasingly aware of the NACE competencies but teaching, let alone assessing, these skills is often out of their comfort zone. Articulating robust learning outcomes and identifying appropriate assessment measures is a logical and meaningful starting point for collaboration.
Your favorite local news source probably publishes a “Best Place for a First Date” list for your town. It is likely to be running this week. Notice that the best first date spots usually offer an activity: bowling, a planetarium show, trivia night, etc. Participating in assessment activities on your campus is a great icebreaker, as well. Depending on size and mission, your institution might have a generic assessment office or one dedicated to academic assessment. Find the person responsible for coordinating assessment of general education or institution-wide learning outcomes and ask about scoring workshops or portfolio review processes. Many institutions use the AAC&U VALUE rubrics, a smaller number use the Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CAT) or locally-developed instruments. Rubric scoring and portfolio review are labor-intensive exercises. It is a rare assessment office that would turn away volunteers.
Keeping the Romance Alive
Meet their friends
When a romantic relationship is getting serious, you start meeting one another’s friends. As you fall in love with academic assessment, you will need to become acquainted with the IRB or Human Subjects Research Office at your institution. You may also get to know the folks in your Center for Teaching and Learning (which carries different names at different institutions), Institutional Research (if that’s a separate department from assessment), or Instructional Technology.
Beyond your own campus, here are some assessment “friends” in your academic colleagues’ social networks (both literally and figuratively):
- Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education (AALHE)
- ASSESS list-serv
- National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA)
- Learning Improvement Community
- Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network
- Assessment Update (good chance your library has an online subscription)
- Linda Suskie’s blog
You may find that these resources not only bring you closer to your academic partners, but afford new insights for your own assessment practice and become cherished friends in their own right.
Speak their love language
The “love language” (see Chapman, 1992) of academics is research and scholarship (and whether those are two different things is a topic for another post). Show your academic assessment partner(s) how much you care by speaking their language. Share journals articles and conference presentations. Some recent literature of interest includes Jankowski & Marshall, 2017; Maki, 2017, Stitt-Bergh, Kinzie & Fulcher, 2018; Hundley & Kahn, 2019. Of course, there is a vast body of research, both “classic” (three whole decades!) and contemporary; I would love to see your suggestions in the comments!
Your institution may have a website dedicated to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). If not, Vanderbilt University has a great resource page and Kennesaw State University has an exceptionally comprehensive list of teaching journals and conferences which could be overwhelming for @AssessmentNewbie. CUNY Lehman College offers a more streamlined, but still thorough, list of SoTL journals:
Of course, you should introduce @ProfessorAssessor to the premier research and researchers in student affairs assessment. SAAL, of course, but also authors such as Henning (2016) and associations such as the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) and the NASPA Assessment Evaluation and Research Knowledge Community.
We’ll be talking more about the love language of assessment next week too!
When you are falling in love with a new romantic partner, you devote as much time and attention as you have available; sometimes to the exclusion of other friends and family. When you are establishing new professional relationships, such exclusivity is neither possible nor desirable. Opportunities for interaction will be constrained by your primary roles and responsibilities. It may take months, or even years, to build the mutual trust and understanding needed for a true partnership. Be prepared for the ups and downs: Keep an open mind about new directions your academic colleagues may want to pursue and look for different ways to suggest ideas that were not received as you hoped the first time around.
Collaboration between academic and student affairs assessment can last a professional lifetime, giving birth to joint presentations, publications, and grants. Most importantly, the students who united you in love in the first place, will benefit from the enhanced learning and professional growth that results from robust assessment.
- Carbone, E.T. and Ware, S. (2017). Are college graduates ready for the 21st century? Community-engaged research can help. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 21(4), 173-207.
- Chapman, G. (1992). The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.
- Hora, M.T. with Benbow, R.J. and Oleson, A.K. (2016). Beyond the Skills Gap: Preparing Students for Life and Work. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.
- Hundley, S. P. & Kahn, S. (Eds.) (2019). Trends in Assessment: Ideas, Opportunities, and Issues for Higher Education. Sterling VA: Stylus.
- Jang, H. (2016). Identifying 21st century STEM competencies using workplace data. Journal of Science Education and Technology. 25: 284–301. DOI 10.1007/s10956-015-9593-1.
- Jankowski, N. A. & Marshall, D. W. (2017). Degrees That Matter: Moving Higher Education to a Learning Systems Paradigm. Sterling VA: Stylus
- Maki, P. (2017). Real-Time Student Assessment: Meeting the Imperative for Improved Time to Degree, Closing the Opportunity Gap, and Assuring Student Competencies for 21st-Century Needs. Sterling VA: Stylus.
- Noyes, E. & Linder, B. (2015). Developing undergraduate entrepreneurial capacity for social venture creation. Journal of Entrepreneurship Education, 18(2), 113-124.
- Stitt-Bergh, M., Kinzie, J., & Fulcher, K. (2018). Refining an approach to assessment for learning improvement. Journal of Research and Practice in Assessment, 13, 27-33.
Patti Gregg, Georgia State University