The new book from ACUHO-I, Making a Difference: Improving Residence Life Assessment Practices, is now available for pre-order from their website.
In preparation for its publication, we sat down with Skyfactor’s Director of Research and Analytics (ART), Dr. Sherry Woosley, and Research Manager Matt Venaas to discuss assessment, residence life, and the challenges of writing a compelling book chapter that stands the test of time.
Kinsley: Topics in this book range from Theoretical Frameworks to Ethical Assessments; the title of your chapter is “Methodology and Data Analysis.” Were you approached to write on this topic specifically, or was it your own idea?
Sherry: Yes, Kirstin Kennedy, the editor, had a plan for the book including topics for each chapter. She reached out and asked me if I was interested in writing a chapter about choosing methodologies. We talked for an hour on the phone about the book plan, how this chapter fit into the overall picture, and what she was generally thinking. About a week before Matt and I finished the chapter, I sent our outline to Kristin. Luckily, she liked it.
K: How does one begin writing an educational, yet digestible, book chapter on a topic like assessment?
S: First, Matt and I discussed what we wanted to accomplish, and we created a list of the goals for the chapter. We then had a few housing professionals give us feedback on the list. We wanted to describe the range of choices, take a practical approach to those decisions, and emphasize things like the usefulness of the results. With that list, we brainstormed topics that could be covered. Then, we developed the structure of the chapter and began writing.
K: The claim has been made that “assessment practices must improve to be a truly useful part of strategic planning and management.” How have you seen assessment practices evolve over your professional career in the realm of higher education?
S: Yes. The biggest evolution has probably been the move from counting inputs and activities to measuring outcomes. Institutions used to count how many students participated in different activities, and those numbers were used to show they were effective. Now, we also look at outcomes. If students attended, did they learn anything? Did it impact their experience?
K: How did you choose the data examples used in your contribution?
S: Initially, Kristin asked us to use a case study to provide a concrete example for the readers. When we tried to find one and use it throughout the chapter, it didn’t work. Basically, a single case study only had one set of methodology choices. And focusing on one case study implied that the study demonstrated the “right choices” or a best practice. Our goals were to describe the range of choices, describe the usefulness of many choices without giving preference, and link the choices to the context and how the data would be used. So, we developed four hypothetical scenarios and used those to illustrate methodology choice options. For instance…
K: Would you mind giving us a teaser of your four scenarios?
S: The scenarios include evaluating staff effectiveness, gathering information about facilities improvements, reducing roommate conflicts, and demonstrating how a department is achieving its new student learning outcomes. So the scenarios are common in the profession but come from various areas in housing and residence life. Each scenario also has a variety of good assessment options so they are good tools for thinking through choices.
K: In a few words, how would you state the inherent value of regular assessment?
S: Assessment is a powerful tool to improve what you do. Essentially, it’s feedback about our work. Because things change (our students, our work, our environment), we need regular assessment to continually monitor our effectiveness.
K: When it comes to data analysis, what’s one thing you wish everyone knew?
S: The most impactful analysis is the one that people pay attention to and use. Complicated analysis is not always necessary.
K: Why should a higher education professional invest in a book like this?
S: The book is practical, as well as methodologically sound. The tight links between the content and housing practice mean that professionals who want to be good at housing will learn something to help them accomplish that.