Assessing the impact of programming is critical. A well-crafted assessment will help show what the students might have learned, how they are thinking differently, or even what changes they may be making in their lives. That being said, assessing personal and moral growth during the college years is quite difficult. Likewise, it will be challenging to determine the ways that one program may have impact when there is so much—academics, roommates, relationships, activities—that influences students on a daily basis.
When starting a new program or re-evaluating an existing program, it is advisable to plan out your assessment before the program runs. In planning an assessment, start by considering three questions that relate to what you want to know:
- Do you want to evaluate your program?
- Do you want to know what the students learned from your program?
- Or all of the above?
The answers to these questions relate to when and how it is best to conduct your assessment.
Type and Timing of Assessment
If you are most interested in a program evaluation, this can simply be conducted after the program concludes. Common methods include:
- Distributing a pencil/paper based evaluation at the end of the last session. This will usually result in immediate data and 100% response rate. The drawback to this approach is that students will not have had any time to really contemplate their responses.
- On-line Survey. There are any number of on-line survey sites that you can use (some for free) to craft an evaluation for your program. An on-line survey is advantageous because it allows you to gather, store, and analyze data in an efficient manner. You can also control the timing of when students receive your evaluation, giving them time to process the experience. The disadvantage of an on-line survey is that students get busy and can forget to complete your evaluation.
If you are most interested in knowing what students learned from a program, you may want to consider doing pre-program and post-program assessments. This dual approach allows you to investigate how the students might have grown or changed as a result of their participation in your program. Pre- and post-program surveys are easiest when administered on-line. Adding a pre-program survey to your on-line registration is a great way to ensure you get good response. The overall drawback to pre- and post-program surveys is that they take more time to develop and analyze. They also require more work on the part of your participants and therefore you may see decreased response rates on the post-program survey.
A more thorough but complicated approach to assessing student learning would be to conduct additional surveys with a random group of students who did not participate in your programming.
If you want to evaluate the programmatic experience and what students may have learned, you can do this through a post-program assessment or a focus group.
Developing Pre-and Post-Program Assessments
To develop pre- and post-program surveys, it is best to start by revisiting your program goals and outcomes. Formulate both surveys around these goals and outcomes. For example, if one of your program goals is to help students clarify their values, your pre-program assessment should ask students to evaluate how often they think about their values or perhaps to name values that they hold. The post-program survey should inquire about whether or not students have a clearer sense of their values and to re-name the values that they hold.
Or, if you are trying to assess outcomes that relate to behavior change, your pre-program survey might ask how often students currently “volunteer in the community” or “vote in elections,” for example. Post-program surveys could then ask students to indicate how their participation in your program may have impacted their tendency to “volunteer in the community” or “vote in elections.”
You may also want to test some outcomes that are less relevant or connected to the stated goals of your program. It’s worthwhile to try this because you may be surprised what students have learned and because it gives you a comparison point for those outcomes that your programming really did seek to achieve. Lastly, you’ll also have benchmarks to use if you ever want to shift your outcomes in the future.
Other Best Practices
- Busy faculty members and student affairs professionals rarely have the time to develop assessments and analyze the results. Delegate these projects to graduate students or undergraduates who are eager for the experience (paid or unpaid). Statistics courses and Research Method courses might even be willing to take on your assessment as a class project.
- Evaluations and assessments should be as short as possible and should include a mix of quantitative and qualitative feedback.
- Anonymous surveys may make students feel more free to critique a program or to reveal personally meaningful insights.
- Consider adding an optional demographic survey at the end of your assessment in order to determine whether your program’s participants are representative of your student body.
- Find out what national surveys your institution may administer to your students. Surveys such as the National Survey of Student Engagement or the Higher Education Research Institute’s Freshman Survey may yield interesting data about your students’ attitudes, beliefs, and behavior.