More Than Tossing Out a Ball

As I struggle to become more comfortable with “public” writing, there is one aspect of my blog with which I am pleased: the title. Although “Campus Recreation Reconsidered” is not the catchiest title I’ve seen, still it represents the rekindling of excitement and interest in my chosen profession that began about four years ago. 

Since I started working in Campus Recreation over 25 years ago, I’ve gotten a sense that those outside the profession think that what I do is little more than throwing a basketball out on a court and letting kids play. And honestly, for many years my main goal was just to provide an outlet for college students to be able to pursue their recreational interests and have fun. 

Then the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) published “The Value of Recreational Sports in Higher Education,” which showed that “participation in recreational sports programs and activities is a key determinant of college satisfaction, success, recruitment, and retention.” That’s when the conversation really started to change. Terms like “intentional learning” and “assessment”—words that I had never heard associated with my profession—started popping up at conferences. And I started paying attention. 

Then two things happened that has set my course for the last four years. First, I attended a NIRSA educational session on Student Learning Outcomes, presented by Dr. George Brown from the University of Alabama. During his presentation he talked about the different areas within Campus Recreation where learning can take place, and the importance to identify these areas, establish expected learning outcomes, and assess those outcomes. During this session he also mentioned the book, “Learning Reconsidered 2.” Dr. Brown’s session intrigued me, so when I returned from the conference, I ordered and read “Learning Reconsidered 2.” (You can read the whole book at this link.) I was inspired. 
That’s when the second thing happened to set my course. Right after I finished reading the book, my boss sent an email to the Campus Recreation professional staff asking for volunteers to serve on a Student Affairs Assessment Committee. I jumped at the chance (my Campus Rec colleagues like to say I “dove on the grenade”). 

During the first year, everyone on the committee struggled through what for us was uncharted territory. Most on the committee had not conducted any kind of formal assessments in our areas. We confused “operational assessment” with “student learning outcomes.” We asked for advice from our university’s assessment office, and they seemed almost as lost as we were in trying to determine learning outcomes for non-academic departments. Over the next several years we muddled through the frustration of trying to cram our square peg of “academic support units” into the round hole of student learning outcomes. But we’ve slowly gained understanding, and we’ve continued to pursue intentional assessment within our departments. And even though I’m still not very good at it, I’ve found that I love it. 

I know that studies have shown that participation in recreational sports has value for college students. So now the question that I strive to answer every day is this: does my recreation department’s programs and services have value for our students? This question has led me to pursue different ways to assess my own area of facilities management to see if this is true. I have developed a Graduate Assistant Development Program, where I have established learning outcomes and hope to show that by working as a facilities graduate assistant, my students will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in a professional job. Assessing outcomes for experiential learning has been a challenge, so requiring my GAs to write reflective blogs is my latest attempt to use indirect measures to show that learning has taken place. And I’ve joined them in blogging, for my own professional development. 

So that “grenade” that I fell on has turned out to be my phoenix. My enthusiasm for my department and my profession is renewed daily. I understand, support, and contribute to the process of looking at our programs and services through the lens of how they help us to accomplish our mission. Campus Recreation, reconsidered. Indeed.


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