In late January, Linda Suskie, a well-known higher education assessment author and consultant, published a blog post, “Why Do I Assess?” Not only did the post garner comments on her blogsite, it created a whirlwind of conversation on a higher education assessment listserv. (By the way, I’m a huge fan of Linda’s for her practical, down to earth perspective and her clear writing style.)
I think everyone should take a few reflective moments to think about why they assess (yes, I think everyone should assess something at some point). Because it’s required? Out of curiosity? For program improvement? To be a better educator? To know what learning occurred? To create an educated society? Each person may have a unique set of reasons, which could be a great conversation to have among peers, and we need to understand that about each other.
Here are a few of my reasons to assess.
First, I love learning. That statement goes in two directions. One, I like to know more about the world around me. When I describe my job, I tell people that I know a little bit about a lot of things. Not surprisingly, two of my Top 5 Strengths are Input and Learner. Over the years, I think I have become more curious and been able to ask deeper questions. Two, I am excited about the learning process among college students particularly outside of the classroom. Learning happens everywhere. I am motivated when I see students have an “aha” moment or describe how they were changed by a co-curricular experience. When students transfer learning to other situations or articulate how a developed skill can be used in their first job after college, I feel good about the work we do in higher education and student affairs.
Second, improvement is important (one of my other Top 5 Strengths is Achiever). How do we know how well we do if we don’t assess? I truly believe that we come to work every day to do the best we can for the stakeholders we serve (students, staff, etc.). We might know anecdotally that we are positively impacting students, but it helps to have more than that to support our assertion. And, in case you haven’t noticed, students and our environment change over time. A program created 50 years ago (or even 10 years ago) may not serve the students of today. We need to know that, so we can adapt. Why would you want to continue to do something that takes time, energy, and money, but doesn’t meet the needs of your audience?
Third, it’s just fun for me. Not only do I like the process of assessment, I like the product of assessment. I have fun sitting down with people to brainstorm what they want to know, formulating and implementing a plan, and figuring out how to share and use the results. I think it’s fun to give back to the profession through teaching and writing. I’m very fortunate to be in a role that fits my personality, interests, and skills. I enjoy coming to work and helping people answer their burning questions.
So, those are my thoughts about what I assess. What are your reasons to assess? I would love to hear them.