To promote the use of data in decision making, the Office of Assessment and Planning created a team collaborative site for the university community (the “confluence” site). Faculty and staff are able to see on the site full reports, key findings, the university’s data profile, the university on social media, surveys, and institutional research. The advantage of having one office that collects data, analyzes results, and prepares reports is that the university is able to see the complete picture of student learning on campus, including gaps and areas in need of improvement. Since the office also administers the Faculty Annual Activity Report (FAAR), the office is able to document “course changes based upon student learning assessment results.”
The office routinely shares current assessment activities and the results from assessments through infographics that graphically display key findings. Instead of lengthy reports, infographics are prepared and distributed during campus meetings that contain the results of university-wide assessments in order to spark important discussions on campus about students’ learning and development. Sometimes, the result from one assessment (e.g., the Transfer Student Survey) is shared throughout the university community. More often, the results from multiple assessments are shared in one packet in order to demonstrate how the different assessments are part of a complementary, coherent system.
User-friendly reports, with easily accessible charts instead of data tables, are also prepared and distributed throughout the university community. For example, the Office of Assessment and Planning provides the New Student Orientation team with a user-friendly report of the student and family evaluation forms within one day so that the team has time to make adjustments prior to the next orientation session. So, too, the office prepares user-friendly reports with the results from academic program review student, faculty, and alumni surveys to programs engaged in their self-studies. These reports appear in the appendices of the self-studies and data are referred to in the narrative.
For programs writing accreditation reports, the office prepares “accreditation-ready” data tables. In this way, programs do not need to enter data into tables. This allows them to focus instead on interpreting the data.
The university regularly establishes taskforces to consider gaps in students’ learning and development as well as areas of improvement. For example, the university convened the Transfer Student Taskforce, the Ethnic Diversity Taskforce, and the Student Success Taskforce. The Office of Assessment and Planning prepared data reports for these taskforces to inform their work. In order to help complete the university’s understanding of students’ learning and development, taskforces turn to the Office of Assessment and Planning to conduct new research. For example, the Student Success Taskforce asked the office to conduct data analyses in order to answer 18 questions related to institutional-level assessment results and the results from other levels of assessment. The office prepared two “mirror” reports. The first was a conventional data report with tables and charts. To complement this report, student sketches based on data were developed. The student sketches represent common subgroups within the SCSU student population, their characteristics, barriers, likelihood of success, and chances of retention. For example, the sketch of “Tommy” illustrates the background and experiences of a student who is thriving at Southern. Taskforces facilitate important conversations on campus among the various groups collecting evidence of student learning and development.
Another effective strategy for communicating data findings is the widespread distribution of infographics. The infographics are designed by students working in the Office of Assessment and Planning. The infographics present the key findings of research studies (i.e., what the OAP director found interesting and important in the research results). All infographics are posted on team collaborative site for the university community (the “confluence” site)
Another way in which data spark important conversations on campus is through small-group “parlor meetings.” Data from the competency rubrics and performance-based assessments are collected and analyzed by the Office of Assessment and Planning—and then shared with the campus community. During small-group “parlor meetings” of faculty, key assessment findings are presented and discussed. In addition, data presentations are offered during meetings of the Liberal Education Program Committee, the Provost’s Council, the Undergraduate Curriculum Forum, and the Council of Academic Chairs. Also, brief reports that highlight interesting or unexpected findings are sent on an ongoing basis to committees addressing particular subgroups of students or issues as well as to the Provost Council, which includes the academic deans.
The university participates in the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) College Portrait, which was designed to improve public understanding of how public colleges and universities operate. The College Portrait provides consistent, comparable, and transparent information to students, families, policy-makers, the general public, and other higher education stakeholders.