Perfect Pairing for Assessment

Perfect Pairing for Assessment


Have you ever attempted to plan a dinner party where you are both host and executive chef?  


I have. I love to cook and enjoy bringing people together to enjoy the fellowship which typically occurs when friends or family gather…especially around the table! Over the years I have hosted several dinner parties, with eclectic groups of individuals, many of which may have never hung out with one another except for the dinner invite.  


The intricacies of the meal, place settings, and the various tastes of the guests can cause a host a great deal of angst.  How many courses should be served? What types of food should be prepared? What will be the “star” ingredient? What should be the balance of savory and sweet dishes served? What vegetarian options complement the hearty meats?  And let’s not forget about dessert! An equally important detail which cannot be overlooked, is the accompanying drink or wine pairing to compliment the menu.


I can’t help but draw assessment parallels from these culinary experiences. All of the aforementioned details require consideration upfront to ensure your dinner guests have the experience desired all while setting the stage for engaging conversations, robust discussions and humorous insights.  In the higher education world, this is akin to an assessment coordinator ensuring those who conduct or participate in assessment have the requisite tools to meet their needs, while also cultivating an environment allowing for insights, inquiry, and humor to be infused in practice. Pulling off such a feat, the perfect pairing for a dinner party or assessment, requires identifying resources and relying on acquired skills and/or experiences.  



Renata Adrienn via Unsplash

Planning for the Guests

Inviting people to engage may be a challenge, but should be accounted for with proper planning.  The lack of careful coordination can make or break a dinner party. The same is true for assessment.  Planning is essential and the stakeholders involved (regardless of the level of across the institution) are an important part of its success.  More often than not, faculty are looking for ideas to enhance curriculum and improve upon the activities which support many of their already developed student learning outcomes (SLOs).  Meanwhile, student affairs professionals may be trying to identify and align specific activities or programs that correlate to something going on in or outside the classroom and link them to strategic or operational objectives.  


Therefore, planning for assessment begins with preliminary discussions.  Prior to setting the menu, setting the table or cooking food, a host must pair up with others to plan for the anticipated guests. He/she may confer with the executive the chef, pastry chef, sommelier, and even servers to ensure that the flavors being developed are matched and presented in a manner that elevates the experience.  Similarly, individuals responsible for assessment may want to collaborate [pair] with other subject matter experts (e.g., faculty, staff) from across the institution who have knowledge regarding specific goals/objectives, processes, measures and targets, instruments used for collecting data, and the participant groups for which assessment is being conducted.  


Perfect pairing for assessment should consider collaborations and partnerships between the academics who are responsible for conducting assessment of student learning and  non-academic departments (e.g. admissions, advising, academic success, distance learning, student engagement, institutional effectiveness, etc.) who may impact student learning outside the classroom (i.e., co-curricular activities, specialized programming, grant activities, strategic planning, etc.).  Thus, working across divisions and departments instead of in silos assists in providing opportunities for holistic assessment planning and, hopefully, facilitates increased engagement for the planner and collaborators, ultimately capturing the essence of the student experience.




Stella de Smit via Unsplash

Creating Menu Items

Like the menu for a dinner party is central for obvious reasons, planning for assessment (i.e., student learning outcomes, curriculum, activity, programming, etc.) requires focus on what we are assessing for. The idea of conducting an assessment may be exciting due to the ultimate outcome of gaining insight, however pairing items on the assessment menu requires thought and creativity.  The items which help establish the perfect pairing for assessment include the following:


  • Identification of the type of assessment (formative or summative);
  • Measures to be used (direct versus indirect) for data collection;
  • Development of activities that both engage participants and support learning outcomes while capturing outcomes information;
  • Tools to be used for data collection (e.g. surveys, quizzes, projects); and
  • Methods of analysis and/or information sources used for qualifying or quantifying data.



Brooke Lark via Unsplash

Pairing "Sampler"

Considering what’s involved in “hosting” assessment, check out the “pairing sampler” which might be used to assist with creating, revising or improving plans for 2019 and beyond:


  • Faculty from the Arts and Sciences (i.e., GenEds) working with their counterparts from technical programs (health sciences, engineering technology, business and public services, etc.) to review student learning outcomes and assist in creating activities and assignments that support GenEd competencies.
  • Student affairs professionals (e.g., student activities, library, career services, etc.) connecting with faculty to review specific curriculum related SLOs and determine what programs and/or activities they can support and link to their department learning outcomes.
  • Working across divisions and/or departments to identify direct and indirect measures of assessment which correlate to the SLOs in both academic and non-academic areas.    
  • Faculty and program coordinators partnering to create senior or capstone projects which incorporate two or more program majors; developing SLOs which meet curriculum requirements but include linked activities, which involve common rubrics and measures for grading.



Image courtesy of Kim Maxwell via

Bon Appetit!

Just like a host has to sit back and observe their guests’ experience after all the planning is completed, assessment leads, must step back and observe how participants respond to the experiences created through perfect pairing for assessment!  From one dinner host/assessment professional to another, I’m curious to know:


  • How might individuals and/or departments within your institutions consider collaborating [pairing] for assessment?
  • What would you consider to establish a balanced [assessment] menu?



Nanette Smith, Rhodes State College

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