Ok, but why read an assessment blog?!

2015-03-14_OhNoLogo22-mark3You might be wondering: Who are these people? Why am I reading an assessment blog?

If you work in higher education, you’re probably not wondering: Why did they call this oh no, it’s an assessment blog? If you don’t work in higher ed, then you probably don’t know that assessment is an activity in which more and more institutions find themselves obligated to engage. It’s all about measuring what students get out of their experiences with us (e.g., advising offices, career services offices, housing offices, colleges and universities as a whole, etc.). The catch is that learning is messy.

In higher ed, we’re helping students identify their values; helping them thrive in today’s complex and dynamic world. If we’re going to help students build these skills, we need to know how we are doing.

But I’m not sure that we as a workforce are naturally equipped for assessment. We’re great at establishing relationships and meaningful conversations, but when it comes to making sense of data, we’re a sports car trying to move a family of 5. We may be a bit cramped, but look at how well we’re taking these corners!

In a quantitative analysis course in grad school, I tried to explain to a classmate how to perform an Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) on a given dataset. I tried everything. I drew graphs, I made pictures, I tried using our friends as examples. Nothing worked. Phoebe continued to look at me as though a giant lizard was right behind me ready to swallow me whole. After about a half-hour, she said “Mark. I don’t need to know how this works. Just tell me how to do it.” We were exhausted. I felt that I was one short example away from her getting it. She felt that I was just saying the same thing over and over again.

For us (i.e., higher ed folks) to make any progress here, we need to continue having these conversations. We need the numbers people to keep trying to explain things and we need those less numerically comfortable to keep asking questions. Because the numbers have implications for the entire office, and sometimes the numbers people — well, I anyway — are so focused on the numbers that we are oblivious to the big picture.

Why a blog? Why me?

If you’re ever trying to get me to do something, all you need to do is to get other people involved. Heck, I started watching The Bachelor because, I’m not really into love stories — please, save the debate about whether the show constitutes love — but the thought of friends, a beer, and a common experience was too much to pass up.

Abby knows of this weakness. Last fall, she proposed we start an assessment blog. My first thoughts: “Sounds like a lot of writing,” and “Do people read assessment blogs?” Now that we’ve created one, I hope the answer is yes.

I come from a background of numbers. My bachelor’s degree is in Mechanical Engineering. This, along with my love for Microsoft Excel, kept nudging me toward assessment. I’ve devised assessment strategies, created surveys, and analyzed loads of data. Along the way I learned not everyone in higher education enjoys the numbers the way I do — but I hope to change that.

 

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Don’t worry, you do NOT need to be a “numbers person” to be excited about assessment. It sounds like a lie, but I’m proof that it’s Truth! My bachelor’s degree is in French (très chic!) and I was a stereotypical humanities major: loved language and culture; hated math.

 What drew me to assessment was my love of teaching, learning, and student development theory. I work in career services and, while I do want students to get jobs post-graduation, the true metric of the value of higher education is when students apply their interests, values, and critical thinking skills to a meaningful post-graduate path. Graduates often change jobs multiple times within the first few years after college. Designing learning outcomes and using them to structure office programming, goals, and data collection shows institutional decision makers that college not only prepares graduates to get a job, but also to face the ever-changing demands of a complex 21st-century workforce.

I’m not the best statistician and that’s ok, because assessment is about people (and I’m best with people). Regardless of your comfort level with data, you can find your place in assessment, and we think it can be fun. Hopefully, Oh no, it’s an assessment blog will help with that.

Come back to ‘Oh no’ on Monday for Mark’s first post!

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