Five Ways to Prioritize Assessment in Your Work

Five Ways to Prioritize Assessment in Your Work

Priority boardAt the end of the spring semester, I sent a survey to Student Affairs Staff at my institution to get information about their professional development needs in the area of assessment.  In addition to asking directly about those needs, the survey also posed some questions that were indirect indicators, including a specific question focused on perceived barriers to assessment.  The perceived barrier that received the highest percentage of responses was, “limited or no time”.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am someone who is aware of the fact that many student affairs professionals are working every day with limited resources (including time) and I certainly understand that there are many days in which we feel we do not have enough time to complete all of the tasks for which we are responsible, in addition to responding to emergencies that arise, unexpected calls and visitors to our office, a large volume of email, etc…  As a result, we are forced to regularly take stock of our work and prioritize the tasks and activities on which we will spend our time. This applies to all of our work – not only assessment.

If we consider assessment as part of our job-related functions and roles, the meaning of having “limited or no time” for assessment shifts a bit.  Specifically, if we were to create a list of all of our responsibilities, we would find we have “limited or no time” to do all of them, as a whole, on a daily or weekly basis.  Thus, our work involves regular prioritizing of which tasks we are going to give our time to and which tasks will not be attended to at that particular moment. There are many ways in which we decide how to prioritize:  upcoming deadlines, emergencies, external pressure (e.g., request from a supervisor, the Vice President), the immediacy of someone standing at our door asking for something. We also prioritize based on more ‘fuzzy’ factors such as:  personal interest in the task, the ability to complete something and check it off our list, the complexity of the task, the benefit of completing the task. It’s clear that there are many factors that impact how we approach our work each day and, thus, how we decide what we have time for and what needs to wait.  Perhaps, having "limited or no time" to do something really has little to do with time and means something different.  Perhaps, we actually have other reasons for not attending to the task, such as:  we don’t have an interest in it; we don’t feel confident in our ability to complete the task; we don’t believe others see it as a priority; we don’t have what we need (e.g., appropriate tool or funds) to complete the task.  If we consider this alternative meaning, we re-frame our challenge of not having time to focus on assessment to it becoming a challenge of not having assessment as a priority. This re-frame is an important shift because it gives us greater control.   

For those student affairs professionals who believe they don’t have time for assessment, here are 5 strategies for prioritizing assessment in your work:

  1. Create external pressure.  If a task does not have a deadline or does not have someone asking us about it, it often gets pushed aside.  As you consider your assessment efforts, consider whether you feel any external pressure to establish and engage in regular assessment of your work.  If not, this is something you can actually create for yourself. Talk to your supervisor about areas in your work that would benefit from assessment and your interest in coming up with an assessment plan for the upcoming year.  This puts your goal on his/her radar and will create a bit of pressure on your part to follow through. Establishing an assessment plan with related timelines will create a clear path and the expectation that you then complete the plan.

  2. Get others involved.  Consider ways in which you can get your colleagues involved in your assessment efforts.  Even if your work may be mostly solo, there are ways to include collaboration at different levels.  For example, as you consider specific assessment methods, reach out to someone on your campus who has expertise in the method you are considering and schedule a time to meet with him/her to talk about your plan and to get feedback.  This puts pressure on you to prepare for that meeting and then to follow through and provide an update to that person, who will likely ask you about your progress at some future date. Another way to get others involved is to elicit support in collecting or analyzing data.  This, again, will require you to begin work on the project and to follow through, given the fact that others have committed their time to help you.

  3. Embrace assessment.  Consider whether your challenge in finding time for assessment relates to any feelings of uncertainty about your knowledge or skills in this area.  Consider connecting with others for assessment resources and support. For example, join Student Affairs Assessment Leaders; NASPA’s Assessment, Evaluation, and Research Knowledge Community; ACPA’s Commission for Assessment and Evaluation.  Find a group that connects with your interests and get connected.  In addition, seek opportunities for professional development in assessment:  attend a conference; take a course; join your division or institutional assessment committee.  The more you learn about assessment, the more approachable it seems, whether it’s because you feel more confident or you become inspired from hearing about others’ work.

  4. Take advantage of campus resources.  Are you aware of resources that exist on your campus that could make the assessment process easier for you?  For example, your office of institutional assessment may have data related to your area that they can share with you, which will help to streamline your efforts; your campus may be able to give you access to software or other tools that could make the assessment process more efficient.  Reach out to individuals at your institution who are heavily involved in assessment and ask them about these resources.

  5. Own it.  I recently heard the quotation, “time management is really self-management” (Connie Edwards, 2012).  What we accomplish in our roles is very much self-determined. Although we can be derailed on a given day with unexpected events and demands, there are more days than not that provide us with a certain amount of control over our work.  Own the fact that you have some control over the time you put into assessment. Decide to make it a priority.

Lastly, for those of you who took the time to read this blog, congratulations.  You made it a point to take a few moments to focus on assessment. What’s your next step?

For those of you who are successful in dedicating regular time to assessment, what strategies do you employ?  Please share them in the Comments section – we’d love to learn from you. For those of you who decide to try one of the strategies suggested in this blog, please share your experience in the Comments section.  

Melinda Stoops, Boston College

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