The Campus Compact network has carefully curated a wide range of assessment resources for institutions of higher education. Rather than duplicate that work, this resource is designed to highlight some of the core assessment concepts that can help you get started on evaluating your work quickly. The linked resources are offer guides and research into conceptualizing assessment work at your institution. This resource focuses on using those concepts to operationalize assessment across service-learning and community engagement programs. It starts with some broad concepts to help you contextualize assessment at your institution and progresses to specific tools.
Assessment of a Complex System
Institution’s of higher education are complex systems. Identifying what you want to evaluate and where it fits within the context of your institution’s system will make it easier to navigate this complexity.
Understanding where your work fits into the larger system of your institution will determine what to measure, which partnerships are essential to the your success, and what resources you will need or already have access to throughout the process. Mapping the system and relationships at your institution would assist your assessment planning efforts.
The Assessment Process
Assessment can be built into every course, program, and initiative focused on community engagement. The diagram below describes the steps of the assessment process. Although outcomes and programs may vary, this process can help you integrate continuous assessment and improvement into your work.
Define Goals or Outcomes
- Identify the goals you want your program to accomplish or which outcomes you’d like to achieve
- Outcomes may vary depending on whether the focus is service-learning, community service, or civic engagement
- When developing goals or outcomes, make sure they are measurable
- A good starting point is to craft goals or outcomes based on pre-identified needs
- After selecting outcomes, design your program or service-learning course around achieving them
- How will you work toward achieving those outcomes?
- What resources will be needed to achieve the program’s goals?
- Well-designed program will continuously track data on programs toward goals or outcomes
- This may involve periodic surveys, interviews, and/or software to help collect data
- Don’t let data go to waste, plan time during or after a program period to analyze it
- Some data can be used to improve programs in real-time, as challenges arrive
- Other data, like volunteer or partner retention, will help improve the program for next year
- After analyzing your data, communicate your results with internal and external partners
- Internal: other departments or offices, executives
- External: community partners who host your volunteers and students
- Based on feedback from your partners, refine your goals and administer the programs again
Why use the assessment process model?
Identify What You Want to Assess
Before defining goals or outcomes, you will need to identify what you are assessing and where it fits in the complex system of your institution. The following list includes areas or programs your are likely to assess.
In general, assessing institutional impact will take place at a much larger scale than other projects. Campus Compact provides an extensive list of resources for Institutional Assessment. These projects are likely to have longer timelines than single courses or programs usually.
Service-learning (SL) occurs in the classroom and in the community. It is usually facilitated by faculty members and internal SL offices. Since SL is curricular engagement there are traditional, in-class assessment opportunities. There are also unique opportunities to measure student engagement and partnerships.
Outside of the classroom, students engage their community through volunteerism, activism, dialogue, fundraising, and myriad other ways. Often, community service and & civic engagement are tracked in a way that counts student activity. In addition, structured programs can include student development goals or shared outcomes with community partners.
When facilitating engagement with the community through courses, programs, or other opportunities, it is valuable to measure whether student’s are developing key civic competencies that align with your institution’s mission. H. Anne Weiss, of Indiana Campus Compact, curates a knowledge hub on assessment of student’s civic learning and development.
Performance measures are built into most AmeriCorps programs and they can also be useful for improving individual service programs and strengthening community partnerships. Performance measurement has an unnerving connotation for many, so it is important to keep all internal and external partners informed about how the data you collect is used.
Defining Goals and Outcomes
A rich library of resources is available for defining program-specific outcomes. Whether you’re working at the institutional level or the student level, there are frameworks available to get you started. Many of these resources are helpful starting points, but will need to be refined into specific, measurable program goals or learning outcomes that align with your institution’s mission.
Begin with SMART Goals
- Specific: keep your goals simple and focus on the who, what, where, when, and why
- Measurable: your goal should be quantifiable in order to determine when it has been reached
- Achievable: goals should align with your available capacity and resources
- Relevant: does this goal align with your broader mission?
- Time-based: establish a time frame within which you will accomplish your goal
Frameworks & Instruments
Once you establish what you want to measure, you will want to look at measurement frameworks and instruments that can be used to collect data. Frameworks refer to ways to conceptualize the outcomes you plan to measure and potentially benchmark your program using others. Instruments refer to the specific tools you use to collect data, such as forms, surveys, rubrics, and more.
- Campus Compact: Review of Key Community Engagement Measurement Strategies
- National Survey of Student Engagement: Participating Institution Search
- Krathwohl, David R. A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview
- W.K. Kellogg Foundation: Logic Model Development Guide
- Fiscal Policy Studies Institute: What is Results-Based Accountability?
Assessment Planning Resources from Campus Compact:
Both of these books contain information and planning tools, like survey templates and worksheets, to get you started with assessment. They also provide insights beyond assessment and planning
ASSESSING SERVICE-LEARNING AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: PRINCIPLES AND TECHNIQUES
Looking In, Reaching Out: A Reflective Guide for Community Service-Learning Professionals
Entry Points to Assessment
There are three opportunities that can serve as entry points for institutions to begin building relationships and collecting data that are useful for assessment. Participation in any or all of these programs will provide an introduction to the process and management of assessment across your institution.
Data Collection & Management Tools
You will want to choose software that aligns with your plan for tracking, measuring, and communicating the data that you collect from your programs. Most data from service-learning and community service programs can be managed using spreadsheets like Excel or Google Sheets and low/no cost data collection tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms. If those options don’t work, it may be worth investigating if your institution has additional software already available, or databases you can access to save time. However, if it’s possible, using special software to manage all of your data is ideal.
- Idealware: A nonprofit that specializes in evaluating software for other nonprofits
- New York Campus Compact: A list of volunteer tracking and management tools
- TreeTop Commons:
- NobleHour – Tracking volunteer hours
- Collaboratory – Managing community engagement activities & scholarship
- GivePulse: Volunteer recruitment, management, and tracking