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Joshua M. Larson, University of Utah

Editor’s Note: Readers interested in learning more about planning and implementing a successful assessment plan may want to consider attending NACADA’s focused Assessment Institute. Learn about available scholarships here.

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Joshua Larson.jpgGathering data for outcomes assessment or for research does not have to be complicated, mysterious, or difficult.  Everyday advisors have conversations with students.  Every one of these interactions is a source of data, and the process of recording this data is transformational for advising.

A few years ago, an advising administrator asked a group of us, “Are we getting things done for our students?  Are they getting their needs met?” I was confident that I was doing this, but I had no proof.  To support my assumption, I started asking a question at the end of every appointment, “Did you accomplish everything you came here to do today?”  Depending on the response, I circled yes or no.  I am happy and proud to report, and to prove with data, that nearly 99.995% of students that have visited my office during the last three years have answered, “I accomplished everything I came here to do today.”

However, being able to report that information with supportive data is only a small measure of the impact it has on the activity of advising.  As other researchers or assessors have said before, the activity of researching is rewarding and enriching in of itself.  Going through the process of answering this question for an administrator transformed the activity of advising along the way.

The transformation began with creating a worksheet.  To answer the question posed by my advising administrator, I created a worksheet that I now use to record every advising interaction.  It contains a list of specific information that I gather from each student.  My worksheets have three types of questions: (1) Basic data questions that are required such as names and identification numbers; (2) Questions aimed at assisting the student with specific concerns or questions like, “Can student generate degree audit?” or “Has student chosen a major, a schedule, or post-bach plan?”; (3) Questions aimed at a specific goal or topics that interest me as an advisor.  These questions might be, “Did you feel like you belonged in this program?” “Would you choose this university again?” “What have you done that makes you distinctive?” or “Did you accomplish everything you came here to do today?”

My advising was transformed by the process of having to ask each student, “Did you accomplish everything you came here to do today?” It forced me to be sure that everything a student came to accomplish, got accomplished.  It was nearly impossible to get a no response because if students had more that they wanted to get done we simply got it done.  By the end of an appointment, I cannot circle no.  Why would I?  So having to ask the question for data collection transformed the experience for both student and I.

There are some instances when circling no nearly became a reality.  If I had run out of time, and a student really wanted to accomplish more, I would need to circle no.  This, however, is an excellent way to track that students may need more time with advisors.  So, even if no is circled, it provides data that supports advising sessions are too short.  Keeping this in mind, I also catalogued the activities for the advising session.  This would allow me to evaluate all the times the advising session ran too short and to compare that to the types of topics that were addressed.  Whatever the reason, the ability to review the sessions, especially in comparison to other sessions or other advisor’s sessions, is a terrific way to begin to understand the factors which may impact advising session time.

While I have not had to circle no because of a time constraint, I have circled two no responses because of student dissatisfaction.  Both of these occurred because a student came to my office for something that I do not have the authority to do.  This provided me the opportunity to discuss the role of the advisor, why I would not be able to carry out the request, explain how I as an advisor can advocate for or assist the student, and share where and how the student should proceed.  After explaining this, I would then ask the question again.  Now students have to decide if we accomplished what they came to do.  I have given a route, a method, offered assistance, and counsel.  Is that adequate for the student?  In my experience, I always get a yes after explaining these matters (except for those two times).  However, if I got a no, this again provides information for those assessing advising.  If I received numerous no responses related to withdrawing from a course, it may be worthwhile for my campus to investigate if the advisor role should include more power or more assistance from the advisor in withdrawing students from courses, illustrating that one question can provide an enormous amount of data.

Finally, asking the question also accomplishes a goal that I have for advising: I expect students to be assertive and even demanding of their education.  This means that they should be asking this question in all of their interactions.  It may be difficult for some students to say no during our interaction, but I do expect that my question may prompt them to either find a way to overcome the difficulty or to understand how to address the missed opportunity.  Students sometimes answer in surprising ways.  I have had students contact me after the session with things they remembered or did not address.  Perhaps they were afraid to say no during the appointment but the question sat with them for a while and they realized that they did have more to accomplish.  Either way, this serves my advising goal to empower students to successfully navigate academic interactions related to higher education.

Whatever one chooses to do, assessment and potential future research questions can be a part of an advising protocol.  Many occupations record numerous data points on interactions precisely for the purposes of research and assessment.  Many of these data points are standardized and mandated.  Recording this information is invaluable for the occupation of advising and recording this information also transforms the interaction for both the advisor and advisee.  Advising work is a valuable contributor to higher education and is able to record numerous data points that might be used and shared with others for quality improvement, quality assurance, and future research.  I am not specifically advocating for worksheets, even though this is common practice for many professionals that serve people and it can be helpful for data collection.  I am advocating for thinking about the potential for research in every interaction.  What would we find if we all asked the question, “Did you accomplish everything you came here to do today?”  Imagine if the 20,000,000 students enrolled in higher education answered this one question and all 20,000,000 worksheets were uploaded.  What a strong statement for advising to make.  “Twenty million students accomplished what they came to do.”  What other data could we collect?

If you have other great questions, please share.  And, if you are ready to begin researching this question or others, let me know and we can do it together!

Joshua M. Larson
Physical Therapy & Athletic Training
University of Utah
[email protected]

Cite this article using APA style as: Larson, J.M. (2017, September). Data: Fast, easy, and transformative. Academic Advising Today, 40(3). Retrieved from [insert url here] 


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.