When I noticed the pre-conference workshop to become certified in Taskstream AMS at the 2019 Watermark Engage conference, it gave me pause. I’m always interested in learning new things, but wasn’t sure if spending the better part of eight hours clicking around in assessment software would be worth the time, especially since I’m not the top assessment software administrator at my institution. I work within our College of Education, Health, and Human Services, and my role in assessment can best be described as “reviewer and cheerleader.” Even with this caveat, I can unequivocally state I found value in the certification course I took, and you probably will, too.
How certification training works
The certification training session started by highlighting the four major activities Taskstream AMS can be used to manage: academic assessment/annual reporting, strategic planning, program review, and accreditation workspaces. There was a separate section of the certification course for each of these major activities.
Participants were given passcodes and manager access to a fictional university workspace so we could enter data, adjust templates, and run reports. This really helped generate meaningful discussion, and encouraged lots of “Can the system …” questions. The institutional diversity and varied circumstances of the participants made for lively conversation!
The first session highlighted the link between templates and academic workspaces, and focused on how to enter outcomes. Users in the room shared their experiences throughout the demonstration, giving tips and pitfalls experienced when using the system. The demonstration paired with commentary from the audience brought the material to life. This session culminated in running reports, which brought together on the screen information we entered earlier in the session. It was a great overview, with enough hands-on navigation and data entry to provide us with a longer-term memory of the discussion. It was a 25,000-foot view, and one that even as a user of the system, served as a good refresher.
The second session was about goal sets (alignment) and reporting functionality. The presentation explained the relationships between goal sets and outcomes (and that measures for outcomes can be aggregated to speak to larger organizational goals), with a brief demonstration. This can be useful in tying strategic planning or organizational-level outcomes down to the program or unit level. Multiple examples of reports were run, plus discussion of how they would display and could be shared (Excel vs. PDF). There seems to be some overlap in the reports, so the explanations of the differences was helpful.
The narrative workspace session was very engaging (no Watermark branding puns intended) and helpful for envisioning how an institution could be organized in their approach to self-study preparation or program review. By organized, I mean, “Not keeping everything in a Google Document that someone could wipe out and cause the accreditation coordinator to have the worst day of their career.” The difference between different types of workspaces were explained, along with considerations for how exhibits should be stored for optimal reporting.
Being able to ask questions of the presenters and fellow participants (particularly on naming conventions of workspace groupings and document titles) was particularly helpful. I had actually tried to begin using this tool last year, but ran into a bit of a road block—which now I can work around because I attended this certification workshop.
The final session focused on the administration of the system (housekeeping and maintenance issues). Though I’m not the institution-level coordinator, I still found this useful! It helped me understand what could be requested and how the system architecture was framed. I’m very glad I learned what is possible (and what may not be, based on how the system works). Although I have a great relationship with my institution’s administrator, I think that I will be better able to communicate with her as my needs for the system change. Now that I have a better idea of how they can be leveraged, I hope to use the system for strategic planning and accreditation self-study planning.
I definitely found value in attending the certification workshop. Further, I have confidence that the other certifications offered by Watermark will be as thoughtfully designed as the one I attended. Will new career doors open for me because I have this certification? Probably not. However, the session served as great professional development and gave me the opportunity to develop a much deeper understanding of the system.
Editor’s note: Watermark introduced certification training for most of our solutions at Engage 2019. Based on the feedback we collected, we are excited to expand our offerings in 2020.
Erica Eckert is the assistant dean for assessment and accreditation and an assistant professor in the College of Education, Health, and Human Services at Kent State University.