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Next-Gen Assessment: Institutional Researchers as Collaborators in Assessment

While higher education institutions and professionals may be short on many things (time, energy, patience), there is one thing we are not short on . . . DATA!

So many people across our campuses are producing data at so many levels that institutions can hardly keep up. What can we do with it all?

Reach out to the institutional researchers on your campus.

As assessment methods evolve to become more complex and sophisticated, many colleges and universities struggle with converting all of their raw data into usable information. But this nexus of data and information is where institutional researchers live. They understand the institution’s data, they know how to organize it, and they can communicate it clearly to advance efforts to support student success. Below, I explore several things to consider as you begin a partnership with the institutional researchers on your campus.

Be clear and explicit about the goals for an assessment. First, ask people on campus what they care about when it comes to student learning. Take the time to learn what faculty, who work closely with students in their programs, want students to know or be able to do when they exit the program. Ask students what they care about learning. Then work with institutional researchers to design meaningful ways to measure movement toward these priorities.

Continue to expand your toolkit. The culture and politics on campuses mean that any assessment must be based on several factors, not only the end results. What learning outcomes will be assessed? What evidence of student learning will be collected—direct evidence (such as data produced by using rubrics to assess student work) or indirect evidence (such as data collected by surveys)? Who will use the data? And, perhaps most importantly, how will this information support efforts related to institutional transformation and student success?

As you work with institutional researchers on campus, be open to learning new ways to collect data, assess student progress toward learning outcomes, and evaluate new partnerships across campus. For example, surveys such as the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) ask students about their learning experiences and provide educators with resources that can support assessment efforts. By collaborating with institutional researchers, campuses can tailor these surveys to ask specific items related to the student learning experience on your campus. 

Collaborate to create assessment advocates. Collaboration with institutional researchers and other partners is a great way to not only collect data but also gain new assessment advocates across campus. Institutional researchers can help faculty and staff to highlight the data that they collect about their students. Together, these data can build a more complete picture of the student learning experience on campus. Other campus partners can be helpful in getting the word out and encouraging broader use of the data.

Have a clear communication strategy. In the same way that other offices and departments on campus “brand” and market their work, use your assessment data to tell stories of student and institutional success. Tell these stories to your campus community often.

It is important to tell internal and external stakeholders about all the ways that the campus is working to fulfill its institutional mission and the promises it makes to students and families. In order to meet these communication goals, we all must come out of our silos. As Linda Suskie reminds us, assessment is only one part of the picture. To ensure your assessments have the intended effects, institutional researchers can help weave them into a larger tapestry that tells the tale of the student experiences that lead to success.

Video Discussion with Bethany L. Miller

Bethany L. Miller is director of institutional research and assessment at Macalester College.

Have an idea for a blog post? Write to dedman@aacu.org.

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