To Grad Students: A List of ways to Get Assessment Experience

To Grad Students: A List of ways to Get Assessment Experience

Comic about how easy it was to get a job in the 1970s versus how difficult it is today

Hey graduate students:

It’s job search season soon- but to get a job, you need experience, and to get experience you usually need a job. Well, when it comes to assessment, you can have your cake and eat it, too! Did you know that knowledge of and experience in assessment is one of the most valued skills in student affairs right now? Whether you want that competitive edge or are just interested in assessment, here is an informal list of ways to dive into the assessment world.

Note: This is NOT a complete list. If you know of anything not listed on here, please throw them in the comments!

Ask your assistantship supervisor.

If you have an assistantship, your office should be using assessment to inform their programming. Your supervisor will know about some of the ways that assessment is being used in your department. During your next meeting with your supervisor, ask about assessment efforts being done in your office, and how you can get in on a project or sit on a departmental committee.       

If your assessment class has a project, do it for an office on your campus.

Many, if not all, assessment or theory-to-practice courses in graduate programs have some sort of project that allows you to walk through the learning outcomes assessment cycle in real time. If you must do a project, don’t make up a program and fake data. Ask your faculty if you can work with an office on campus instead. Many student affairs offices would LOVE for someone to help them assess the efficacy of a program or service they offer. It’s a win-win situation: you get to practice with real programs and outcomes data, and put this project on your resume/CV. You’ll also get the opportunity to expand your network by working with an office on campus you may not be familiar with yet. At the same time, the office you work with will get extra help with assessment!

Get in touch with your campus institutional research, assessment, and/or effectiveness office.

Institutional research offices on campus often help with assessment for various entities on campus. Yes, institutional research is different from assessment (that’s a discussion for a different blog), but they would be a very knowledgeable office to ask about assessment efforts on campus. Send them a cold email explaining your interest in assessment and see what happens. If they don’t have anything available for you, they will know someone on campus that does!

Apply for an internship and/or practicum that focuses on assessment.

ACUHO-I and NODA are great entities that provide wonderful opportunities for summer internships, but many of them don’t offer internships that apply assessment well. When I went through the ACUHO-I process, I found that I was extremely lucky that I got to incorporate assessment into my internship experience. If you’re really interested in assessment, search for assessment- based summer jobs and internships. Note that these are much harder to come by, so if you’re serious about going this route, you may have to dedicate some time to searching, sending many cold emails, and exercising your network a bit. Don’t give up if you want it, though!

Most graduate programs have some sort of practicum requirement, where you must work for a different office on campus for a few hours per week. Some offices may want you to teach a class or make/put on a program, and there may be one that will ask or allow you to do outcomes assessment. When you’re searching for a practicum, ask every office how they immerse in outcomes assessment, and if that can be part or all your practicum hours!

Attend conferences and go to assessment-based presentations.

Did you know there are conferences out there just for higher education assessment? Every year, assessment professionals from all over the country and the world get together to review the assessment basics, discuss best practices in assessment, and present on research about emerging topics in assessment. Student affairs assessment is always a huge topic of discussion at these conferences. Here are a few that you can look at:

IUPUI Assessment Institute: This is the largest assessment conference in the world, and it meets every year in October. It is hosted every year by Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis in Indianapolis, Indiana. This year, there will be over 7,000 attendees from all over the world gathering for the online conference, and registration is free!

Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education (AALHE): This organization helps thousands and thousands of faculty, student affairs professionals, and administrators across the nation in developing and sharing best practices in assessment. AALHE also has an annual conference, and they offer various webinars and one-off sessions throughout the year to registered members.

Regional Assessment Conferences and Networks: Many regions throughout the United States host small gatherings where assessment professionals can get together to discuss happenings at regional/local institutions. These conferences are fantastic ways to get involved with assessment and network at the local and regional levels. Examples of these are the Virginia Assessment Group and the New England Educational Assessment Network.

Even if its primary focus isn’t assessment, there are still great student affairs organizations that have working groups on assessment, as well as annual conferences that feature assessment topics:

NASPA: NASPA is one of the two major student affairs organizations. In NASPA, there are knowledge communities (KCs) where people interested in certain areas of student affairs can gather and be part of a working group. One of those groups the Assessment, Evaluation, and Research KC.

 ACPA: Just like NASPA, ACPA has many communities where like-minded and interested people can gather to discuss topics and sponsor sessions for the annual ACPA Convention. In ACPA, the assessment group is called the Commission for Assessment and Evaluation.

Functional Area Conferences and Groups: Many of the functional areas in student affairs have their own organizations and conferences. Many of those conferences also include topics on assessment within their areas. Examples of these groups are ACUHO-I for housing and NACADA for academic advising.

If you can’t get an opportunity to do it for your office or as a structured experience, construct the experience yourself!

Sometimes, it’s hard to find an opportunity that matches your schedule or interests. If that’s you, try to do something yourself. Most graduate assistantships have an aspect of programming. Take one program you’re in charge of, and apply the outcomes assessment cycle to it. It may take a long time to coach yourself through the process (there are plenty of online sources available, discussed below), but learning it on your own will surely increase your knowledge and efficacy. Who knows, maybe you’ll find that a program you’re doing isn’t doing too well- your office wouldn’t have known otherwise!

Look for online “teach yourself” resources for a head start or an in-depth dive into assessment.

If you want to learn about assessment before you take your assessment course, or during/after your course you want more information to help you, some institutions have websites that have a collection of resources that are laid out to educate you about assessment. One great example is James Madison University’s Student Affairs Assessment Support Services website. They cover each step of the assessment cycle, and each step has its own page full of videos, articles, and reflection questions. The National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) also has the LARC Grant Project, which is a multi-module self-paced course on assessment for beginners!

Pursue an academic or workshop certificate in assessment.

Some institutions offer a graduate certificate (equal to 4 classes) in higher education assessment, student affairs assessment, or something equivalent. If your graduate program has one, see if it’s feasible for you to enroll. If your institution does not have one, see if you can enroll in it for transfer credit to your own program, or start looking now and enroll when you graduate and start working!

Other institutions, instead of an academic certificate, will offer one long workshop or a series of smaller workshops in assessment foundations. If you go to all the workshops or the one long workshop, you can leave with a certificate. My institution, James Madison University, hosts two to three workshops every summer that last a week. After that week, you leave with a certificate from “Assessment 101,” and a LOT of great knowledge!

Bonus: If you’re passionate about assessment, there are entire doctoral programs where you can study assessment!

Take an open resource online course.

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are free online courses available for anyone to enroll. SAAL, in partnership with National Louis University, actually has a MOOC for student affairs assessment. It is offered every spring semester, and you can click here to learn more about it. It is a quality course that covers great content. After the course is over, you’ll still have access to the materials.

Again, as a former student affairs graduate student, I understand the annoying cycle of needing a job and experience. If you have access to any of the options above, you’ll be able to learn a lot about assessment while working.

If anyone has any other ideas or resources, please post them in the comments!

Christopher Patterson, James Madison University

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