While assessment in higher education has matured, the technology available to support it has exploded in the past decade. There are so many options available, it can be difficult to narrow them down.
However, there is a larger question to answer. Can a software tool be successful without an already well-established institutional effectiveness and assessment process? Or, can a tool help develop strong processes?
Weave sat down with Dr. Nasrin Fatima, Associate Provost for Assessment and Analytics at SUNY Binghamton, to hear about their journey using a software tool and how that impacts a successful process.
About SUNY Binghamton
The State University of New York (SUNY) has 64 campuses, and Binghamton is one of the four doctorate-granting University Centers in the SUNY system. Binghamton University opened in 1946 to serve the needs of local veterans returning from service in World War II. In 1950 the college was incorporated into SUNY. They hold an R1 Carnegie classification, are home to six schools, and have 18,333 students enrolled. They are accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
Dr. Fatima joined the university in 2012 after working in institutional effectiveness at two other institutions. She was thrilled SUNY Binghamton had received no recommendations in their previous accreditation visit, and was looking forward to continuing a successful process in her new role. She discovered, however, that the process wasn’t as entrenched as she hoped, particularly around collecting and showing data and improvement. In 2013 she participated in a committee to select a software tool to support a stronger process.
“I wanted to make sure we could easily capture all the data for any purpose, from a holistic level all the way down to the program level.”
The Right Fit – More than Just Features
Dr. Fatima had used an assessment software platform before, so she was familiar with how they worked. Her primary focus was not on features, however. “It has to be user friendly and intuitive for everyone, because it’s not just for ME.” Keeping faculty and staff user needs in mind is the most important aspect of successful implementation of any technology. When users can easily accomplish their work in the tool, information can be used at various levels.
The next most important aspect for Dr. Fatima was how well a platform could fit their current process and support users in completing it one part at a time. Inputting mission, goals, outcomes, measures with targets, findings with supporting evidence, and finishing with analysis and action plans on the timelines that had already been established was going to integrate the tool into a process that was already working well for Binghamton.
“During the presentations it was clear that Weave could walk people through the process step by step.”
So – Process or Tool First?
Dr. Fatima definitely found that establishing a good foundation for assessment made using a software tool more successful. “You must have a process in place; software won’t help if you don’t have that. Establish a common language around assessment, and THEN get a tool.”
However, it was clear that using a software platform enhanced many aspects of the process and the results. Weave helped Binghamton streamline the process, particularly collecting evidence. Prior to using a system, there were so many documents stored in various places. “After using Weave, we saw we did not have to go crazy collecting evidence, you just have to use the right evidence to show improvement.” Programs were more easily able to choose examples and quickly show them in Weave, tied directly to findings and action plans. Using technology to streamline and simplify enhanced their systematic process.
“The most exciting result for me was our recent self study. The provost was so impressed!”
Tips for Choosing a Software Partner
Dr. Fatima has been working with IE technology for over ten years, and has learned that evaluating only based on features won’t necessarily ensure the right fit.
- “Be sure to complete a needs assessment before you start looking.” What is your current process? What works and what needs improvement? Only look at tools that meet those needs.
- Service – inevitably you will need support at some point. “Weave responds and resolves as quickly as possible. When we had some snags in our process that didn’t match up with the system you were gracious and helped us use the system to make it work.”
- Find a partner that anticipates and helps with turnover. IE work tends to get passed around, and while a platform definitely helps promote consistency, new people must be trained to use it. “Weave provides webinars and training for users at any point, which is helpful for the system administrators.”