Institutional Effectiveness in the time of COVID-19

The past month has been historic, and likely the next one or two will be as well. Due to COVID-19, the world as we know it has changed at breakneck speed, both professionally and personally. Campuses have closed, students and employees are adjusting to learning and teaching at home. Accreditors are adjusting visits and timelines, and IE Directors want to support faculty and staff while planning for successful accreditation reporting. With all the rapid changes, assessment and accreditation professionals might be concerned about how data will be collected, and if it will be representative.

To help give some insight into how to move forward when the unexpected happens like COVID-19, we reviewed accrediting sites and interviewed Dr. Tisha Paredes, the Assistant Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment at Old Dominion University. She works closely with University faculty and staff in creating assessment plans and reports for their programs and services; monitoring SACSCOC standards and overseeing institutional effectiveness activities across the University. 

What are the DOE and accreditors saying?

  • On distance education & accreditation site visits: The U.S. Department of Education has allowed accreditors to waive their distance education review requirements for institutions working to accommodate students whose enrollment is otherwise interrupted as a result of COVID-19. See more information here. The DOE is also permitting accrediting agencies to perform virtual site visits during this period. Read more details here.
  • Changes to operations: If you’ve had to adjust normal operations, reach out to your accrediting body to notify them of what business operations have changed. For example, the Higher Learning Commission states on their COVID-19 response page “Institutions may find that they need to adjust normal operations to protect the health and safety of their campus communities, while providing alternative methods of instructional activity.”Accreditors are doing their best to support and guide their institutions through this unprecedented time while many campuses have reduced or suspended face-to-face sessions. It is recommended for an institution to notify its accreditor of the adjustment, including the steps it takes to ensure quality and continuity in its instructional activity. As always, be sure to ask the accreditor any questions you may have.
  • Stay in touch: The accreditation bodies are accommodating, welcoming and want to hear from you. Dr. Barbara Gellman-Danley, chair of C-RAC and president of the Higher Learning Commission, said,

    “We want institutions nationwide to know accrediting commissions remain available to provide necessary guidance and recommendations as colleges and universities determine how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our teams are working around-the-clock to monitor the ongoing situation and assess how institutions can continue to best provide quality education opportunities to students in the wake of this crisis.”

Thoughts from Dr. Tisha Parades

Accreditation Deadlines due to COVID-19
When a crisis happens, if you have an accreditation deadline coming up, what should you do? 

  • Talk to your contact at the accreditor immediately and seek guidance. They will likely delay, reschedule or update the visit to a virtual one, if permitted. Each accreditation body is different but all are striving to meet the needs of their institutions. 
  • Remember, reviewers are “us” – they are assessment / institutional effectiveness leaders, so they are going through the same challenges. Current advice is to try to collect as much data as possible and continue adhering to best practices. If it is not possible to collect data this semester, then be sure to document that in the report or future reports.
  • Consider alternative data that could help document continuous improvement – can faculty reflect on how course materials could be improved? Or about their pedagogy for diverse learning environments? There are opportunities for improvement in challenging times, often ones we had not foreseen.

Most important advice
What would be the biggest piece of guidance for assessment & accreditation professionals of how to navigate the short term and long term effects of our current situation?

  • Short term – let people breathe. As was stated by Natasha Jankowski recently, “Let compassion, not compliance, drive our decision making.” We want to be helpful and supportive as opposed to rigid and bureaucratic. Assist colleagues in using what they have and carrying out reasonable assessment in this new environment.  Then start with small wins – there are many people who were already teaching online; leverage their expertise to help other faculty think about assessing students online.  
  • Long term – think about this as an opportunity to work with faculty development offices to scaffold outcomes, develop curriculum maps for courses and degrees, and address pedagogical needs of faculty for online and face-to-face environments.

We are hopeful this information is helpful to you. We at Weave are with you, and we’ll get through this together. And as always, if there’s any way we can support you, don’t hesitate to reach out! 

More COVID-19 Resources

For further details on the length of the academic year, assignments of grades, waiving graduation requirements and accreditation extensions, please see the list below of each accreditation body’s COVID-19 response and updates.

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