With the publication of Learning Reconsidered I & II, there has been a critical push for co-curricular departments within Student Affairs to develop and assess student learning outcomes. As a Campus Recreation professional, I support this completely. For years, those in my profession have “known” that programs we offer provide learning opportunities for students. Now, because of the culture change towards intentional assessment, we have learned how to conduct assessment to show that learning takes place.
But though I am pleased with the number of programs offered through my department that assess student learning outcomes, most of what we do in campus recreation is “operational” in nature. We want to provide the best facilities and services possible so that students can participate in the physical activity of their choice. We strive to create a recreational environment where students feel welcome, where they can exercise without barriers, where they have opportunities during various times of the day to come and relieve stress and play with their friends. When they walk through our doors, we want students to be glad that they chose to attend our university because we have such a wonderful recreational center that meets their needs. We want them to exercise and leave happier, less stressed, and more prepared to face their academic pursuits than when they entered the facility.
How do we assess these operational outcomes? Mainly through satisfaction surveys.
The survey we use is sent via an emailed link to 2500 randomly selected students. Most questions ask students to select their level of satisfaction with a variety of items related to our programs and services. Included are questions pertaining to hours of operation, cleanliness of the facility, availability of equipment, customer service, number and type of group fitness classes offered, number and type of intramural contests offered, etc. Through the survey results, we have received invaluable information and have made improvements to our facilities and services that have increased student satisfaction in subsequent surveys.
So imagine my confusion (and frustration) when I recently read the following tweet from a Student Affairs professional:
“Satisfaction surveys is not assessment work… stop it, NOW!”
After further investigation, I found that the tweet was sent during a chat session with the authors of Learning is Not a Sprint: Assessing and Documenting Student Leader Learning in a Co-curricular Environment. I assume that what the author of the tweet meant was “using satisfaction surveys to assess learning is not assessment work…” And I would wholeheartedly agree with that statement: satisfaction surveys do not show that learning has occurred.
In general, though, this is what I find confusing (and frustrating) with Student Affairs assessment: it seems that when “assessment” is discussed, the focus is almost exclusively on student learning outcomes, and very little mention is made of what is perhaps our most important work: delivering quality services to our students. The reason for this focus could be that, before a few years ago, we didn’t understand the need for a co-curricular unit to develop and assess student learning outcomes. Over-emphasizing the need for student learning outcomes assessment created an awareness of this concept, so that now, most Student Affairs units are doing this type of assessment.
But shouldn’t it be time to again start including operational outcomes in the conversation? I love to talk about assessments we’ve conducted showing that our 200 student employees have learned transferable skills; that our 75 weight loss program participants have learned how to design their own weight training program; that our 80 club sports officers have learned how to develop a risk management plan that is customized for the unique needs of their sport. But for me, an even more important assessment question is this:
Are we meeting the recreational needs of the 3,000 students per day who use our programs and services?