Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Digital Assessment: A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Surveys: Digital Assessment Helps to Identify Points of Strength and Challenge within Non-Curricular Areas

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Digital Assessment: A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Surveys: Digital Assessment Helps to Identify Points of Strength and Challenge within Non-Curricular Areas

Article excerpt


The role of accountability is becoming increasingly complex. Regional, state, programmatic, and national accreditors, as well as our own constituents, demand to know why a problem exists, what the underlying causes are, and how we are going to fix it.

From a proactive standpoint, institutions want to delineate, and in some cases are required to present, the items that a constituent can expect upon completion of his or her interaction with the institution. For academic programs, these are the learning outcomes. The focus of assessment programs at colleges and universities over the last 15 years has been toward this type of assurance. As institutions mature in their assessment activities, they have become more sophisticated and discriminating in their assessment techniques. They have begun to use multiple assessment measures to evaluate the causes of documented results and to clarify issues. The processes of fully identifying issues and the familiar phrase "closing the loop" are still central; however, the intensity of the roles these processes play today has increased dramatically. The days of "checking the box" to answer the question are over. Assessment data are now relied on for curriculum-based and programmatic decision making.

Most institutions are looking for ways to maximize their resources while still being accountable for their actions. This includes enhancing resources for planning and assessment. Surveys have long been a common staple for determining institutional effectiveness in programmatic and other areas. Survey results can make an institution aware that there is, or may be, an actual or perceptional problem.

Yet, survey results often do not provide with pinpoint precision the necessary information on what traits or characteristics are areas of opportunity for the institution. Surveys can also provide information on areas in which the institution is succeeding. However, as with opportunities, often the individual traits or characteristics of institutional success are not clearly defined by traditional paper-and-pencil or electronic surveys.

The use of surveys to assess the non-programmatic aspects of an institution can be especially problematic since responders have differing interactions with the aspects being assessed. For example, suppose the goal is to determine the perception of the campus upon entering it. An individual entering from the south may think it is beautiful, but one entering from the north or east may find it less so. While a well-written instrument should certainly ask which entrance was used, it is not always possible, or feasible, to capture detailed responses. Furthermore, it is often left to the responders to choose to give more detailed information in support of their responses. Many subjects choose only to respond to the objective portions of a survey, so it is left to the researchers to decide whether to increase the length of the objective portion (e.g., by asking what entrance, what time of day, whether in a vehicle or on foot) or to use few, or no, free responses to determine what needs to be changed to improve conditions. The method presented in this article not only captures these details, but also categorizes and quantifies the results.

This article describes how one institution has successfully used a technique developed in-house called "digital assessment" as part of its assessment program for the past three years. Digital assessment helps to quickly and clearly identify points of strength and challenge within non-curricular areas of the institution, especially facilities. Following a literature review, the article describes the technique's two-part process and presents its results.

Literature Review

There is no literature on this technique as it is presented here. Elements of the technique (photography, assessment) have abundant literatures, but in their isolated states add little to this study. …

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