Assessment entails much more than collecting and crunching data. It’s about using data to make informed decisions that facilitate continuous improvement. And accomplishing that requires a strong culture of assessment across campus—regardless of your institutional structure, location, or size.
As many of you already know, facilitating continuous improvement within a program or department (let alone across campus) is no small task. To this end, colleges and universities of every shape and size share some common ground with regard to establishing and sustaining a healthy culture of assessment.
Before all else, you need to understand where your culture stands now as a benchmark for determining where it should go. To help gauge the culture of assessment on your campus, start by answering these four questions:
1. Who is involved in assessment at your institution?
On your campus, you may already involve assessment practitioners, faculty, and students in assessment. But you should also consider adding other units like student affairs, libraries, and external stakeholders such as employers or alumni. Think about any constituencies who have any level of involvement with assessment, and engage them all. This brings unknown challenges to the surface, reinforces the value of collaborative assessment, and provides a consistent forum for ensuring all stakeholders can and do move forward in stride.
2. Are you sharing assessment results with your stakeholders?
Many institutions host “Data Days” to share assessment findings internally with faculty and involve them in developing action plans to address areas needing improvement. It’s also becoming more common for institutions to share assessment results with students, parents, donors, and employers. While this may be a touchy subject on some campuses, the benefits of sharing findings and action plans with stakeholders far outweighs any perceived risk. Offering this kind of transparency builds credibility now, which facilitates deeper understanding of the rationale behind changes that may come.
3. Is there resistance to overcome?
After identifying and communicating assessment results with your stakeholders, sustaining that initial engagement is critical to overcoming potential resistance later on. You can proactively reinforce these valuable relationships in a positive way by staying focused on student learning, involving faculty in the identification of outcomes, encouraging collaboration within departments, and cultivating a culture of trust and support. Collectively striving toward the same goals will go a long way toward bridging many divides (perceived or otherwise) that can arise among the various ranks of stakeholders across campus.
4. Do your courses map to programmatic and institutional outcomes?
Individual course objectives should always align with program-level outcomes, which should map to institutional goals and strategic plans. By mapping outcomes in this way, your institution will be able to understand and demonstrate the relationships between them. This, in turn, helps pinpoint areas for deeper analysis to generate suggestions for improvement. Identifying and aligning outcomes also facilitates a shared understanding of assessment among stakeholder groups across campus. As mentioned previously, this common understanding is critical to building a strong culture of assessment.
Gauging your campus’ assessment culture is one of the first of many steps along the journey to continuous improvement. And you can’t get there alone. So know your stakeholders, engage them in a plan, collaborate early and often, and don’t be afraid to share how well you are doing—as well as where you need to improve.
As your journey continues and your culture of assessment matures, the path ahead will be illuminated by the lessons you learn along the way.