I have to admit that I’m pretty left brained when it comes to my work. In fact, the thought of spending a quiet afternoon in front of Microsoft Excel, coffee in-hand, warms my heart (did I mention that I love coffee?).
It’s for that reason that when I first started learning about assessment I often equated it with data collection – as I’m sure many others do as well. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to know how many and what types of students are using your services. But, in addition to those metrics, it’s also valuable to think about demonstrating your offices’ success using qualitative information. Like J.K. Rowling said, “there’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place,” and who wouldn’t want advice from someone who lives in a house like this:
So what exactly is qualitative information? Basically, anything other than numerical data. It’s been on my mind because it seems that lately we have received quite a few requests for student success stories. This isn’t surprising – stories supplement, support and strengthen the metrics we already share – and, unlike me, not everyone finds joy in looking at pie charts all day.
Here are some examples of ways you can collect and organize qualitative information and how these methods support your assessment objectives:
Focus Groups or Advisory Boards: These two methods are great ways to better understand your students’ needs. They function well if you’ve sent out a survey and want help explaining some of the findings or if you feel (like many of us do) that your students are suffering from survey fatigue and won’t respond to one more request. Focus groups tend to be groups brought together one time around a specific topic whereas advisory boards could meet throughout the academic year. In both cases, be thoughtful about who you invite to the table (Do you want students from a particular background or school? Is it open to everyone or might you want to conduct interviews first?). You’ll also want to think critically about who should be facilitating. Consider both staff members and unbiased professionals who are specially trained. Either way, be sure to document the planning, take notes/transcribe, and be ready to plan follow-up actions based on what you learned.
Word Association Exercises (Pre and Post): Have students write down or share words they associate with a particular topic before and after an event or presentation to help measure if your core message came across. For example, in a seminar on interviewing students may start the session offering words like “scary” or “questioning” and end sharing words like “preparation,” “practice” or “conversation.” Keep track of the terms shared and use an application like wordle to look at the pre and post results side-by-side.
Observation: You don’t need to bring in a team of consultants every time you need an external perspective. Consider asking a trusted career services professional to attend your career fair, observe a workshop or review your employer services offerings and provide written feedback and suggestions. Offer your expertise on another topic to avoid paying a fee. Keep notes on changes you have implemented based on the observation.
Benchmarking: There are many reasons to benchmark. For assessment purposes knowing what other schools are doing and how they compare to you helps give others context. Being able to say that your program is the first of it’s kind or that it’s modeled off of an award winning one developed by a colleague may make more of an impact when combined with your standard student satisfaction survey results.
Staff: We all are lucky enough to receive the occasional thank you note or email from a student who has really benefited from the programs and resources provided by the career center. Come up with a standardized way to be able to quickly track those students. It could be something as easy as a document on a shared drive or even a flag in your student management system. Be sure to ask students’ permission, saying something like, “I’m so happy to hear our mock interview meeting helped you land that internship! We are always looking for students who are willing to share their positive experiences, would you be comfortable sharing this information in the future should we receive a request?”
I’m sure there are many more ways to collect this type of information – please leave your questions and share your own experiences below!