Campus Life newsletter, Spring '20: A New Perspective on Old Habits


A New Perspective on Old Habits:

Considering Data Collection Through An Inventive Lens

We are entering a new year, a new decade even.  Sometimes the urge to chuck everything and start over in terms of assessment can be strong.  That urge can even be valid at times when completely changing program structure or content.  More often however, this urge comes when looking over familiar programming and trying to think of ways to innovate, or to stay current.

More and more the conversation around assessment has shifted to alternative methods of data collection.  How can we find ways to collect data unobtrusively? How can we integrate data collection into programs and initiatives rather than being separate and post-event? How can we perhaps even make it fun! [Yes, unbelievably, assessment is sometimes perceived as not fun…]. 

One thing to keep in mind though is that a focus on alternative methods doesn’t mean chucking what you currently have.  Let's pause: when I talk about alternative methods what exactly do I mean? I define alternative methods as complementary approaches to typical close-ended question surveys or standard focus groups, for example using rubrics, reflective writing, pulse check-ins, reflective photography and the like.  Effective alternative methods are a combination of creativity + intention, and you might be surprised to realize the alternative methods you may already currently using.  Here are some great resources around alternative methods:

  1. an overview that gives some great ideas;
  2. pros and cons of some techniques; and
  3. a recent chapter on innovation in Student Affairs assessment both more numbers- (quantitative) and word- (qualitative) based, including "digital storytelling".

Ultimately, surveys continue to be convenient and useful assessment tools.  When I talk sometimes... or rather quite often... of decreasing surveys used on campus, I am by no means maligning the survey approach.  Rather, I am encouraging pre-planning, purpose, and ingenuity.  A survey that is intentionally based on specific and connected-to-outcome questions, discussed, thought through well beforehand, skillfully designed, and ideally part of a multi-pronged approach can yield a wealth of precious, usable data insights. 

Food for thought: Surveys can include alternative types of questions to the norm.  One example: asking respondents to upload a picture or other file illustrating a part of their experience of interest that you use a rubric to analyze.  What are ways that you can look at your surveys and data collection with new lens?