I have attended Watermark assessment conferences several times starting a decade ago when I was a new faculty member helping to coordinate the assessment system with LiveText. Those conferences gave me wonderful examples of how others solved problems and led me to develop new ideas on how to take updates and features back to my institution. I enjoyed hearing from keynote speakers who expanded my perspective and re-energized me. I was able to put a face to the names I had communicated with when we had questions. In more recent years, I was pulled back into assessment efforts to revitalize our assessment system after faculty had become complacent between visits.
I was usually sent as a single representative of our programs. In each case, I returned to my institution with careful notes to share with others, but saw many of my enthusiastic ideas fade away when faced by status quo and the fact that others had not shared my experience. The conference helped me, but the ultimate results were limited.
Two years ago, I was able to attend the conference as one of a team of three from our teacher education oversight committee. As a group that was already used to collaborating, we identified sessions we wanted to attend together and sessions we would attend separately to report back to the others.
This time, the keynote speakers were a shared experience for us that led to discussions on the larger context of assessment in higher education, issues, and trends. As a team, we talked with faculty from other schools to understand that they were facing the same challenges that we were and to get new ideas. As the conference progressed, we found that we were developing new perspectives and ideas that we could share to carry back to our institution together.
We took time to sit in the lounge and make notes of ideas and plans for follow-up after we returned to campus. On the flight home, we sat together with our laptops and drafted the framework that pulled together our assessments into a stronger quality assurance program. This time when we returned from the conference, our ideas and priorities were shared and most of the list we made at that conference has been carried out successfully.
I recently saw an updated version of the “Shift Happens” video, which always leads me to feel both overwhelmed and challenged. It is more than I can manage, but it is not more than we can manage.
Assessment is no longer a separate entity in education; we better understand that data is an integral component through all steps. Assessment cannot be an individual effort—it requires teamwork. We all know that higher education does not adapt quickly and that changing perspectives is even more challenging than changing software.
Over the years, the Watermark conference has led me to keynote speakers who changed my ideas and broadened my context. I would encourage all institutions to send teams to the conference.
Include academic leaders on your team, and plan time to work together there and afterwards to ensure that inspiration from the conference carries through the shifts that will challenge us.
Together, we can achieve more.
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