Monday, April 12, 2010

Assessment - Qualitative Gems

Assessment can be a daunting task, but sometimes the value in assessing outcomes can come from the most unexpected places. MVCC hosted an assessment workshop this week with Linda Suskie, Vice President from the Middle States accrediting association, spending two days facilitating workshops for administrators and faculty. The first day was focused on administration and the second day was focused on teaching and the assessment of student learning. I had the opportunity to provide a welcome to the group and I shared three themes related to assessment that I’ve come to value during my career. 1. Whether it’s assessing institutional performance and outcomes or assessing student performance and learning outcomes, good assessment is just good practice and good practice is good assessment. It’s all about measuring performance; using it appropriately; and making adjustments to improve. 2. Good assessment comes from sharing good practice. The wheel has already been invented, so use what’s already been created and make it your own. 3. Don’t have too many measurements – measure what matters and do it well. The general feedback I heard from participants was that the time in the workshop was well spent and hopefully, we’ll continue to improve our assessment practices for teaching and learning as well as our overall institutional performance.

While the workshops focused more on the technical aspects of assessment and more frequent quantitative approaches, I had a chance to do some qualitative assessments this past week as well. I had a meeting in Rome that got out early, so I dropped by a local business run by an MVCC alumnus. We had talked on the phone before, and he was gracious enough to welcome me on this unplanned and unexpected visit. We talked about our backgrounds and got to know one another some. As he shared his MVCC experience with me, I asked him how he got started in his business. He said that his memory always takes him back to an MVCC instructor who told him that he was a good presenter and had strong business skills. It was one of the first encouraging comments he’d ever received outside his family. That was 25 years ago and he remembers it like it was yesterday. How do you assess an outcome like this?

Similarly, I attended an MVCC alumni reunion event Friday night with nearly 120 alums from the past fifty years. Making my way around the room for a couple of hours allowed me to hear beautiful and interesting variations on a theme – “I loved my time at MV”; “MV gave me my start”; “I turned my life around at MV”; “Without MV, I wouldn’t be where I am today”; “My teachers were great – the smaller classes at MV made me learn more than the big lecture halls when I transferred to the university”; “We both got internships and walked right into a job when we graduated – couldn’t have asked for anything better!” - Talk about outcomes!

Assessment is certainly critical to inform our thinking and help us improve, but sometimes collecting the qualitative assessments and feedback to affirm what makes a difference can inform our processes as well. Sometimes it’s the individual positive reinforcement we give students that makes a difference in their lives and sometimes it’s the overall “MV experience” that stays with them for years beyond their time with us. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.