How to Expand Meaningful Evaluation of Co-Curricular Activities in School

September 18, 2023 Jessica Fillingame

Prior to deploying Taskstream by Watermark to our campus community at Syracuse University, we concentrated our early efforts on establishing clear processes and standardizing our assessment terminology. This facilitated our subsequent work with co-curricular programs and units to develop key components of an Assessment & Action Plan, including goals, outcomes, measures, and criteria.

Based on our experiences working with these programs and units, we found the following practices helped us get the most out of using Taskstream by Watermark to document, organize, and manage assessment activities throughout the University.

Establish your organizational hierarchy.

Establishing your organizational hierarchy is a critical, initial step when transitioning to a new, formalized assessment process. We created a level for each school, college, and division prior to listing departments and units in their respective areas.

Mirror terminology, processes, and procedures.

In adopting your Taskstream by Watermark assessment system, take advantage of the flexibility to tailor the system’s nomenclature to reflect the terminology your schools, colleges, and divisions use. This recognition and familiarity can reduce hesitancy and encourage adoption, particularly within non-academic units.

Define and share the meaning of “co-curricular.”

Co-curricular programs/units have goals and outcomes that are both student-focused and operational. We categorize “co-curricular” as an unique mix of programs and services that focus on student learning and development outside of the classroom (e.g., Learning Communities, Health Promotion, McNair Scholars Program, Falcone Center for Entrepreneurship, etc.).

Identify and share your assessment process.

Our assessment process is defined by three phases:
Phase 1: Specify & Plan
Phase 2: Collect & Analyze
Phase 3: Action & Follow-up

Communicate implementation plans early.

Assign a dedicated project manager to identify timelines for developing training materials, guides, and videos. Consider distributing information about the new assessment process over the course of several months leading up to your go-live date, using email, town hall- style meetings, video conference sessions, and hands-on training.

Partner with an assessment champion.

If possible, have a point person from your Division help coordinate and focus efforts and provide guidance to other departments that have multiple co-curricular programs/units to assess.

Train, pilot, and test.

Prior to rolling out your new assessment plans across campus, select staff members from co-curricular programs/units to pilot the new tools and spend time one-on-one with them as they are introduced to the system. Sit with these staff members, walk them through the workflows, and incorporate what you learn into your training materials. This goes a long way toward fine-tuning the various tools you’ll need to use effectively when it’s time to deploy your new assessment processes.

Provide support and training.

For many staff and faculty in co-curricular programs/units, articulating goals and outcomes and assessing them is a new experience. When implementing your assessment plan, be sure to develop support and training materials,  guide and checklists,  and meet individually with programs/units upon request.

Offer professional development.

Be sure to support Student Affairs personnel and other non-academic units tasked with conducting assessment. We invited Dr. Marilee Bresiani to conduct a special workshop  to help our student experience professionals on campus hone their assessment skills and knowledge.

Evaluate and provide feedback on assessment plans.

To avoid any program/unit feeling like they’re submitting plans into a “black hole,” make a concentrated effort to provide feedback Outcomes Assessment Projects (formerly Aqua) a rubric that includes both University expectations as well as specific feedback for each program/unit.

Early planning and ongoing evaluation always helps facilitate successful implementation of any campus-wide system. Start developing your plans early, evaluate them often, engage key stakeholders frequently, and then pilot, iterate, test, and iterate some more.

Above all, take the time and invest the effort to learn the new system fully so your assessment team is able to support other users across campus in using the technology as intended and in meaningful ways.

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