The Assessment “Engagement Ring”

September 18, 2023 Melissa Helvey

There are certain indicators I have found to be good measurements of assessment success on campus: A clear understanding of assessment, an office dedicated to assessment and its findings, support from leadership, and perhaps one of the most important indicators, faculty engagement. As many of us have experienced, faculty engagement is by far one of the most critical pieces of a successful and flourishing assessment culture, and is critical when initiating a new assessment protocol on campus. An engaged faculty community makes adoption of new assessment pedagogy and continued growth of student learning through data-driven decisions much more cohesive and successful overall.

However, faculty engagement remains a key concern for many assessment professionals. In my experience, it’s not due to their resistance to bettering student achievement (they are truly supportive of improving student learning), but rather because they are pulled in many different directions on campus, and they can feel, at times, that performing assessment pulls them away from the art of teaching. If we can come together, as administrators, leadership and faculty to realize we are all on the same “team” when it comes to student learning and much of the required assessment on campus is already being collected by faculty, we may be able to minimize resistance against it.

Below I have defined what I feel are five relevant tactics to building sustainable faculty engagement in assessment. In my personal experience, once a small group of faculty are actively engaged in assessment, the momentum is catching and other faculty soon become engaged as well. This helps to create an unbreakable assessment “engagement ring” – engagement from all stakeholders on campus – that has the fortitude to withstand inevitable changes and shifts on campus.

1. Provide clear communication on the importance of assessment

Assessment, as witnessed by myself and many of my clients and friends, can be a hard concept to be universally accepted by stakeholders on campus. I believe there are sometimes conflicting views on what assessment is and the value it brings to students. In my opinion, a successful culture of assessment should support learning done in the classroom by our faculty. The results faculty are inherently demonstrating of successful student learning are often the same results (in a quantifiable format) needed by the assessment team. I believe by educating our faculty on the importance of being able to demonstrate class and program learning through data, which in turn helps to ensure student development and growth, is key to success. It eliminates the guess-work in determining student achievement and can accurately inform areas for improvement. It drives better programs and student success overall.

2. Define common goals with input from faculty & other stakeholders

Communication is necessary when it comes to a successful culture of assessment. Also important is getting faculty and stakeholder input on the goals for our assessment initiatives. Not only does this allow various stakeholders from many different backgrounds to generate new ideas around assessment, it also allows for communication about assessment to develop innately on campus. For instance, a common goal may be improved student learning. Establishing goals that are common across faculty and administration opens the lines of communication and allow all stakeholders to have a common target for concentration.

3. Support assessment efforts with dedicated and well-defined resources

I believe defining not only goals but key stakeholders within the process is necessary for a healthy assessment community on campus – these are resources that are critical to the assessment processes. The most successful institutions I’ve seen are those that have not only well-defined goals, but individuals appointed to spearhead the various assessment tasks and help shepherd them to completion. In addition, this past summer Taskstream developed a focused research study to determine the assessment needs of institutions to enhance student-learning across campus. The survey focused on the perceptions of assessment on campus – its perceived value, the perceived “maturity” of the institutions and individuals involved, and the role of technology to support the work. Our research shows that by investing in technology to assist with the assessment processes on campus, stakeholders feel their institution is dedicated to their success and supporting the necessary tools to accomplish the larger institutional goals on campus.

4. Communicate that assessment is about assessing student learning, not teaching

In my experience, there tends to be fear around assessment. Some of the faculty I’ve worked with have been concerned their performance in the classroom, and not the students’, is under evaluation. Which, as we know, is not at all the case. By communicating we are using the results in a constructive way to make our courses, programs and institutions stronger, and not punitive to the faculty nor their teaching, we can start to dispel this myth.

5. Shift the culture from the bottom up

A strong foundation for assessment is necessary for a successful and flourishing culture on campus. What better way to create an assessment “ring” than by a grassroots effort at the faculty and student level? By communicating the importance of assessment, removing any punitive connotations, having resources available to those participating and opening-up conversations on goals for student learning in the future, you are able to build an ideal foundation for grassroots assessment initiatives. Get faculty involved by hosting assessment forums and let them know how valuable and critical their input is to the future of student learning at your institution. Host brown-bag lunches with students and talk about the importance of assessment, and how critical valid assessment is to the success of their programs and the institution as a whole. By cultivating these ideas and getting the whole community involved in assessment, you will be able to create an energy and inertia that will help catapult your institution to the next level. And in a way that ensures continued participation and success on campus.

So get out there and put a “ring” of engaged stakeholders around your assessment initiatives!
If you would like some additional “food for thought,” on shifting the culture of assessment on campus, please access our Webinar recording, Supporting Community College Faculty and Administrator Engagement in Learning Outcomes Assessment, featuring Laura Giffin from NILOA and Erika Hacman from SUNY Orange.

You may access all of Taskstream’s webinar recordings and other resources to help you advance your assessment efforts in our resource library.

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