Assessment, Evaluation, or Research?

2015-03-14_OhNoLogo22-mark3Last week, I had a conversation with a colleague about  a new advising effort on campus. The idea was that we have plenty of professionals advising on campus, but as such a large university, it’s easy for us to go long periods of time only interacting with professionals within our academic units. The leadership team is comprised of four sub-teams, and the two of us charged with developing the Assessment and Research group — a name I hope to change because I’m not sure these two areas are all that connected.

Abby first touched on assessment’s identity issues with her post: Is what I’m doing assessment or evaluation? I thought I’d add research to this because I believe that confusion over what assessment is contributes to the issue of it not happening enough.

Here’s how I see it research’s fit with assessment and evaluation:

Assessment

We all want our students to learn as a result of their interactions with the college experience (duh). Assessment is the process of defining what learning is supposed to happen, when it should happen, and how it should happen — and then measuring the extent to which it happens. Granted, the first and third of those tasks can be daunting. Each office should assess the learning for which they are responsible. This means that larger “umbrella” offices (e.g., the office of student affairs, or student life) may have long and broad lists of outcomes; while smaller offices, often within student affairs or student life, should focus on a shorter, more narrow, list.

As you think about the services provided by your office, do they all contribute to learning in some way? They should.

Evaluation

To me, assessment measures quality while evaluation measures quantity. Evaluation answers the question: Is our process for providing services an effective means of delivery? Evaluation is often about numbers and satisfaction. How many students attended this event? Was our advertising effective? Did you (student) find this valuable?

People often say to me: Mark, I’ve created some great workshops, but I can’t get no, … satisfaction. That’s a lie. Nobody says that to me. I planned that line the minute I started typing this post.

Satisfaction often gets a bad rap. But I don’t care how life-changing your workshop was, if only one student attends and if they don’t think it was valuable, they’re not coming to the next workshop, and they’re not telling their friends about it.

So consider this my blessing. Go ahead, count the number of students attending. Include questions about satisfaction on your surveys — just be sure those surveys also have learning-oriented questions!

Research

Research is a bit different. While assessment measures if something happened, research indicates why it happened. In the case of higher education advising, research might explore the impact that different advising frameworks have on our advisees. Good research is wide-sweeping, useful in a variety of contexts, and carefully tested for validity. Because of it’s universal nature, research is an exhaustive process — often taking years and with a defined end. Assessment (hopefully) is both streamlined and continuous. Once you’ve assessed learning resulting from a given process, you can’t just assume that it happens every time you offer that process.

We created this blog as a means of starting conversations. So what do you think? How do you differentiate assessment from research and evaluation? Have I missed anything? Do you agree or disagree with any of these points?

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