posted on November 18, 2020 01:11
Karen Hauschild, NACADA Assessment Institute Scholarship Recipient, College of Charleston
I attended the 2020 NACADA Assessment Institute alongside two colleagues, and it did not disappoint. I came to the institute with a solid grounding in assessment practices thanks mostly to NACADA concurrent sessions on assessment at the annual conferences over the years, sessions facilitated by Rich Robbins and other esteemed advising colleagues that have helped shape my understanding of not only why assessment is important, but of equal importance, how to do it and do it well. I remember very clearly when the lightbulb went off in my head years ago, and everything I learned up to that point came together. I remember thinking, “I now know what to do and how to go about doing it.” But I’ve learned since that time that learning about assessment never stops, and you can always get better at assessment.
Over the last five years or so, our advising office at the College of Charleston has done some really great assessment work. We have closed the loop on one of our student learning outcomes (SLOs) after a three-year cycle at the end of the 2018–19 academic year. I have to say, it feels good to say that. We also won a first-place assessment Administrative Unit Award on our campus in spring 2019. Over time, our assessment practices have just gotten better, and our foundation is very strong for continued work to inform our advising practices. With that in mind, I wanted to attend the Assessment Institute, in particular with colleagues from my office, so that we could take our assessment practices to the next level and develop a plan as a team. I specifically wanted to focus on advisor assessment. My hypothesis is that if advisors are achieving their learning outcomes, then our SLOs would improve as well. Our assessment results have confirmed we were reaching assessment performance targets and students were learning because of their interactions with our office, but I wondered how do we know for sure what the advisors do and do not know? How do we know how and what to improve in our new advisor training or professional development activities? How is advisor assessment connected to advisor evaluation?
While all of the plenary and concurrent sessions offered useful and meaningful information and food for thought, the two concurrent sessions that had the greatest impact on my thinking relative to my office’s current assessment practices, outside of the work group sessions, were Assessment: Part of your Daily Life facilitated by Dan Chandler, Heather Doyle, and Isiah Vance and Advisor Evaluation—Beyond the Student Satisfaction Survey facilitated by Heather Doyle. The first session introduced me to the fact that advisor assessment is not evaluation. What? “I don’t know how it couldn’t be,” I thought. I had more questions than I had answers at that point, which led me to attend the Advisor Evaluation concurrent session, where many of my questions were answered, yet new ones were generated. Thankfully, I was able to consult with Heather alongside my colleagues on the last day during open office hours to ask more questions and consider a future process for our office.
The work group sessions were also especially meaningful. The Assessment Institute schedule was such that participants initially attended work groups driven by various assessment-related topics such as assessment cycle; vision, mission, and goals; student learning outcomes; advisor outcomes; etc. Participants arrived at their room based on these more global assessment topics and then selected a table in the room that focused on a specific topic within the larger context. As the Institute progressed, we as participants were able to move from larger group conversations to more focused independent work time and consult with specific Institute faculty on our questions and the crafting of our action plan. Having these independent working sessions knowing an assessment expert was just steps away was instrumental in applying our new knowledge in the development of our assessment plans moving forward.
By the end of the Institute, the two biggest lesson I learned while at the Institute were:
- Advisor assessment is not evaluation. To be honest, I have struggled with getting my mind around separating these two practices and, of course, doing them both well without creating a whirlwind of advisor anxiety. While there is accountability in our work, the key to advisor assessment is grounding the advisor outcomes in their defined job duties. What is written in the advisor job description is directly related to what informs the learning outcomes. WOW! Thank you, Dan Chandler for helping us connect those dots. That made all the difference in our planning conversations.
- Advisor assessment helps not only clarify what, how, and why advisors teach, but also creates clearer expectations for a defined advisor role. This allows for more formative and improved learning practices for advisors. Improving advisor performance helps drive our advising program improvement. My hypothesis in action.
As I reflect upon my career in higher education over the last twenty years, I must admit the first time I heard the word “Assessment,” I cringed a little bit: Assessment felt like a four-letter word. I thought to myself as a relatively new advisor at the time, “oh no, just another thing I have to do,” but I must admit that I’ve turned into an assessment geek. As my roles and responsibilities have increased, so has my understanding of the importance of assessing our work as advisors. Not only does it inform our campus communities about the incredible work we do, work that is grounded in formalized and systematic data collection and reporting, it also continues to take our work to the next level on each of our campuses, which impacts students. Assessment provides an opportunity to take a critical look at our advising programs through the lens of continuous improvement and driven by data. It’s not just a feeling that we’re doing good work. We know we’re doing good work. After all, students are what it is all about.
Academic Advising and Planning Center
College of Charleston