I love coffee. Strong and black. Coffee does something to my soul when I drink it. The smell of roasted coffee beans and steam coming from my favorite mug brings a smile to my face. Beginning my morning with a hot cup of coffee is sure to set a positive tone for the rest of the day. I love coffee. Then something happens. It’s 3 o’clock and I realize I’m on my fourth cup of the day. During this realization, I begin to notice my higher heart rate, funny feeling in my stomach, and that I’m a bit more energized than what is good for me. The truth is I had too much of a good thing.
What is your “too much of a good thing”? I’m convinced we all have it, whether we want to admit it or not. Nowadays it seems assessment and data has become one of higher education’s good things that we have too much of. I want to be clear; assessment and data are necessary in higher education. Both assessment and data are good, just like coffee. However, when we have too much of it and do not use it effectively, this good thing turns into something bad. I see this most often show up in three ways that I will describe below.
- Quality over quantity. Assess more and have more data has been the message given to many higher education professionals. More isn’t inherently bad, but it also isn’t always necessary. When we expect professionals to assess more, are we equipping them with the tools to build effective assessment tools? Are we being thoughtful about targeting what we assess instead of assessing everything? Do we consider survey fatigue? We must consider these questions. Creating fewer effective assessment tools that provide rich data instead of conceding to the pressure to assess everything will serve professionals well. Switching the focus to quality over quantity is a shift higher education must consider.
- Dust filled data. When we leave something in a corner and don’t attend to it dust will collect. The same happens with data in higher education. When we conduct multiple assessments we have data that is filled with dust because we do not do anything with it. Because most of our data is stored electronically we don’t see the dust, but it’s there. It’s not enough to say we did an assessment. We must go a step further and use the data! We must analyze the information we’ve collected, share it with folks who need to know, and adapt a plan for how the data will be used. When we do this, our assessment becomes purposeful. When we do this, our investment in that specific assessment is justified. When we do this, our colleagues and students are best served. What timeline can you set yourself to avoid dust getting on your data? What data currently needs dusting off?
- Over our heads. Some higher education professionals have done a great job assessing in effective ways and utilizing the data collected. However, the dissemination of data is over our heads. The pressure professionals feel has turned into the need to create 30-page analysis of data. What happened to one-page summaries? When will we use technology to disseminate our data? How can we make the analysis and presentation of the data interesting, so people want to read and use it? These are all questions we should be asking when considering the dissemination of data. I have found infographics to be a highly effective way to disseminate information in an accessible way. Making changes to better share our stories is beneficial and necessary.
Assessment is a good thing. Making data driven decisions is a good thing. We know this to be true. To ensure it doesn’t continue as too much of a good thing, professionals must consider the implications of the current way we do assessment in higher education. The survey fatigue students experience, the pressure to have data when making any size decisions, and the expectation that we assess everything under the sun have clouded the goodness of assessment. How are you doing with quality over quantity? What data needs dusted off in your office? How can you make data accessible to all? Considering these questions will get you one-step closer to keeping assessment good. Because remember, like my fourth cup of coffee in the afternoon, you want to steer clear of having too much of a good thing.
Mika Karikari is currently a doctoral student in Student Affairs in Higher Education at Miami University as well as an Associate in Career Services. Additionally, her professional background also includes academic support, residence life, and new student programs. You can follow Mika on Twitter @MikaKarikari or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.