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5 strategies to manage assessment and accreditation overlaps

These strategies can help faculty manage mounting assessment and accreditation expectations and responsibilities at their institutions.
By Dr. Divya Bheda, Director of Education and Assessment, ExamSoft Worldwide
September 16th, 2021

These strategies can help faculty manage mounting expectations and responsibilities at their institutions

Higher education faculty have a lot on their plate. Not only are we responsible for teaching and student learning, but we also often engage in research and building a legacy of scholarship, monetary support, and recognition.

We are expected to also demonstrate our commitment to service by helping in the administration, governance, and excellence of the university. It is within this oft unpaid and underappreciated service that the responsibilities of programmatic assessment, accreditation, and review usually fall.

Faculty work with various staff diligently to ensure compliance with multiple overlapping and diverse accreditation expectations. Here are five “C” strategies to consider:

1. Center Continuous Improvement (CI) as purpose: Reporting and compliance endeavors serve to demonstrate educational quality, mission alignment, and efficacy of endeavor. As faculty engaged in compliance reporting for all types of accreditation, one must stay focused on the goals of continuous improvement. If we center CI as the intrinsic value, foundation, and purpose of all accreditation endeavors, we become open to the possibility of our “compliance” activities becoming more transparent and reflective. We, as educators, become more empowered to use the data gathering and reporting opportunity to be useful—to assess what is working and what is not. We can truly move away from our accreditation efforts being “compliance” report generation and use the data for meaningful improvement. We can share information and explore potential solutions as we identify gaps or problems to overcome.

A CI approach to any accreditation undertaking allows for the true purpose and value of a review, assessment exercise, or accreditation effort to be realized—the betterment of education. It will also change our reality for the better because we can enlist our colleagues in the mutually beneficial exercise of serving our students, reaching for our goals, and realizing our mission.

2. Communicate consistently and concisely: When you adopt a CI strategy intentionally, the next step is to communicate. One of the biggest barriers that folx experience working on multiple accreditation endeavors is a lack of consistent, comprehensive, and concise communication. Lately, assessment and accreditation offices have been partnering with their institutional marketing and communications offices to share data and help spread a message of use and utility.

Effective communication helps engender authentic engagement of colleagues, students, and various other stakeholders who are essential to the success of such assessment and accreditation efforts. The importance of communicating the “why” rather than our current tendency of communicating the “what” cannot be emphasized enough. Additionally, we all need direction on how to engage in self-study and how to use accreditation as an opportunity for continuous improvement.

3. Calendar your processes and deliverables: In addition to clear and consistent communication, calendaring is a great tool for aiding any program’s simultaneous, multiple assessment and accreditation endeavors. Knowing when to set up review committees, when communication must happen and with whom, when data must be gathered and analyzed, when the draft report(s) must be written and knowing what elements can be replicated from another accreditation deliverable is essential to the success of these undertakings. Knowing who is responsible for what, when their regular teaching and scholarship responsibilities are likely to peak, or when they are unavailable for collective, important, and strategic decision-making, will reduce the stress and load of logistic coordination—a big element that is key to the success of accreditation.

When calendaring is done right and proactively, half the work is done because a solid plan is laid out and shared with everyone involved. Everyone knows how and when to carry out their part and why adhering to the timeliness matters. All this planning helps mitigate duplication of effort, smooth the process, and reduce fatigue among faculty. They can see the big picture and their role in contributing to the success of the effort. And their other responsibilities are taken into consideration. This generates a feeling of common good and commitment.  

4. Co-create with your students: An essential element to managing multiple accreditation endeavors is to partner with your students. If the focus and opportunity across all accreditation endeavors is continuous improvement through self-assessment, not only is student success data important but student voice and perspectives are invaluable and should have a strong role in shaping the strategic decision-making and direction of the program. Making meaning of the data in a way that offers nuance, depth of understanding of context and needs should be the priority rather than reinventing the wheel for each type of accreditation endeavor.

A greater effort in learning from students ensures that skewed decision-making does not occur because of misinterpretations of one or two data points that does not offer a robust, holistic picture of the problems and the potential solutions for continued program success in all areas. Centering student voice in all assessment and accreditation endeavors is essential as they are the ones impacted by the decisions.

5. Collaborate with other offices: If you are going at it alone in your program or department, access the resources you have on campus, be it the Institutional Research Office, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Institutional Assessment Office, or the Office of Student Affairs. Access at least one. Invite them to partner with you to help you be successful. Communicate your needs with them, share your vision and value of continuous improvement. Share your calendaring, plans, and timelines, so that they can make themselves available to you as well. Demonstrate to them how you are partnering with students to use the accreditation or program review effort as a way to catalyze meaningful change in your program. Inspire them to share their resources, tips, and ideas with you so that you can work together. They can help you not to duplicate efforts or reinvent the wheel as you work with them of different accreditation expectations. Together, you can come up with innovative solutions to long standing problems. Having such partners will boost the confidence and efficacy of your process, your data, and your decisions.

About the Author:

Dr. Divya Bheda, she/her(s), is the Director of Education and Assessment at ExamSoft Worldwide LLC. She has over a decade of experience in leading program evaluations, assessments, and social justice training, and holds a PhD in Critical and Socio-Cultural Studies in Education, an M.S. in Educational Leadership, and an M.A. in Mass Communication.