Blog: Idea Exchange

Strategies for Assessment Professionals for Effective Data Sharing

Andrea Barra July 7, 2015

Imagine if we gave students assignments but never returned feedback or grades…

We would have quite a revolt on our hands, wouldn’t we? Faculty often feel as though this is what happens to them with assessment data. They are asked to collect and collect, but get little feedback about results or understanding of how those data are used. It’s the job of assessment professionals to assure that results are shared efficiently and effectively with all stakeholders, but most importantly with those who collected the data in the first place.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: What do we hope to achieve by sharing data? Because we live in such an information-heavy world, it’s essential that we have very clear purposes for bringing data to faculty members, administrators, students, and other stakeholders. Data sharing for its own sake is a great idea, but very often gets lost in the sea of emails and meetings that typically occur during the semester. Below, I’ve listed some tips for sharing information in the way it can be best received.

Who?
Be particular about exactly who needs to see which pieces of information. Ask yourself to whom this evidence is relevant. Be sure that data are organized around what faculty or other stakeholders want and need to know. Some results are sensitive and shouldn’t initially (or ever) be shared widely. Does everyone in your institution or department need to see every piece of information? Almost certainly not. What a provost, a department chair, and an adjunct faculty member need to see are very different things.

Why?
Decide what your purpose is in sharing the information. What decisions will be made from these data? Here are three possible scenarios to consider:

1. Do you have clear conclusions that you need to get across to faculty (after your own analysis)?
Example: After looking at rubric scores about quantitative literacy, it’s clear to you that ‘interpretation of charts and graphs’ is an area of difficulty for the students in the public health program. Perhaps not to muddle the issue, you only present the results of that criterion, rather than the whole rubric, in order to keep the group focused.

2. Do you want faculty to examine raw data or initial reports to draw their own conclusions?
Example: You’ve been saying over and over again to the faculty in elementary education that their graduates are not proficient in relevant content knowledge. It seems as though they don’t believe you. This could be a great time to give them a representative sample of subject-specific scores on certification exams and have them do their own analysis.

3. Do you want to start a conversation about your students/outcomes/assessments/institution?
Example: Lately, faculty in the philosophy department can only seem to share anecdotes about how their students don’t know how to write. Is this true? Present data to them that either reject or confirm this assumption. Or, use the conversation as an opportunity to find out what type of evidence needs to be collected to answer the question honestly.

How?
Make information clear and concise! The easier it is to read and interpret, the less likely it is to end up in the garbage. In my previous position as an assessment coordinator, I was often discouraged by the fact that faculty didn’t seem to appreciate the amount of data I would provide for them. I thought they were being difficult for no reason. Turns out, I was overloading them with information that was not always easy to look at and analyze. I wasn’t clear on what I was communicating and so they couldn’t be clear about what they were supposed to gain from looking it. Simple charts and graphs of the relevant evidence and conclusions are the best way to get a point across to folks who already spend a lot of time reading and analyzing.

A Few Other Best Practices
Data Habits
The more faculty get used to being exposed to data on a regular basis, the more it becomes part of their language and standard operating procedure. While data retreats and assessment days are awesome, many institutions don’t have the resources (including time) to hold them. Instead, think about using department or program meetings to put data in front of faculty as often as possible, in big and small ways. This will get them used to making interpretations and discussing changes. And they might even start to look forward to it.

Change the Conversation
Stop trying to gain sympathy by resigning yourself to external pressures. It’s very easy as an assessment professional to use the excuse of the accreditor or the state to try to get faculty on your side or hope they won’t see you as being the “bad guy.” (I’m not ashamed to admit that I attempted this very tactic, which backfired wildly.) In the end, however, it doesn’t help your cause. Instead, be positive about the role of assessment and how it makes us better. Data are good! They tell us what we are and aren’t doing well. Emphasize that data use is valued and valuable to the institution or program. And, most importantly, for student learning. Faculty care about assuring students’ success. That’s a powerful frame for the conversation.

Celebrate Your Successes
Big, small, and everything in between…successes should be celebrated. It can be as simple as publicly praising a program for finishing up that stubborn curriculum map they’ve been working on for a year. Or getting pizza for the folks who made it through rubric calibration. Or getting psyched for the nursing program who finally got those licensure pass rates up. Like any other job, faculty enjoy being appreciated.

I’d love to hear other suggestions and techniques that have worked on your campus. Feel free to email me (abarra@taskstream.com) with your success (or fell-flat-on-its-face) stories!

– Andrea Barra earned her MA and PhD in Sociology from Rutgers University and a BA in Political Science and Sociology from the University of Richmond. She has held various positions in student services, research, and teaching in higher education over the past thirteen years. She worked as an Assessment Coordinator and Research Associate at Lehman College (City University of New York) in the Bronx until joining the Taskstream team in January of 2015.

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