10 tips for deploying a new assessment platform (differently)

Time and again, institutions struggle with properly deploying a new assessment platform. Often that fault lies with the vendor who lacks the knowledge or institutional expertise to provide sound counsel on how it should be accomplished. A different approach will lead to success.
By: | September 9, 2014

Time and again, institutions struggle with properly deploying a new assessment platform. Often that fault lies with the vendor who lacks the knowledge or institutional expertise to provide sound counsel on how it should be accomplished. Take a different approach and it will be a success:

1. Separate orientation and training. Make it crystal clear to faculty that you are totally disinterested in assessing them. The goal is to work together to find out what students are getting stuck on and help them get past those barriers. This also has nothing principally to do with accreditation. Argue with disbelievers if you must that if the school earnestly devotes itself to systematically employing well-designed inquiries about learning, accreditation will take care of itself. Stress that the results will be shared and faculty will be asked to reflect and to suggest next steps.

Briefly show faculty a step-by-step overview of the workflow for students and faculty using the actual software (hint: this goes even better if real students play the part of students). Use an assignment in a real portfolio and use a real rubric to demonstrate the tools for assessment that will enhance feedback. Show a compelling student portfolio just as seen by an employer and how it can be used for career search/social media purposes to double duty the work they are doing for their courses.

Also, if you chose the right provider, scoring and feedback tools will be “a jaw drop”, especially when embedded in the Learning Management System. Banish their fears of double-assessment (assessment in the LMS and again in the Assessment Platform). Show how a few strategically selected assessments will kill many birds with one stone and provide excellent data that will help students.

2. Give faculty the ammo they need. Hand faculty a thumb drive loaded with a PowerPoint prepared for students and a stack of handouts with some bullet points they use in classes that outline the benefits of assessments for everyone. Encourage faculty to discuss this proactively and positively with their students when they feel the time is right.

3. Build anticipation on campus. To make assessment a core principle of the culture you have to get people to realize that it’s more than hot air and noise. You must pre-sell the idea of ePortfolios and competency assessment to the campus. How? Why not call in a crack team of your Business School’s best marketing students? Make this a real project.

4. Don’t forget to orient students too. After the hype campaign has primed the pump, use this opportunity to also orient students and address how they will benefit from assessment. This is usually done in an assembly or as part of a class in time taken over a week or two.

5. Train “just-in-time” not just when it’s convenient to do so. Train only when you have real work to be handed in and assessed. This will assure immediate and focused use of the tools and reduce training loss. Do not show them anything more than they need to know for now. Smaller, targeted sessions for other features can follow when the need for them becomes obvious. Be sure to tell students how to get help.

6. Train students in labs but with a twist. Try putting two students to a machine as collaborators in learning. Hand them both a Quick Start Manual. Train to some logical stopping point and have them switch roles. Now, the new learner has a peer who just did the tasks to help and guide them. This frees the trainer to sprint to the pairs that are truly lost.

7. Treat faculty training as a special case. Putting large groups of faculty in a lab and training them on technology is a dumb idea. No one who is an expert in their field enjoys any level of exposure when they are uncertain about what to do. If you must use a lab, use small affinity groups of colleagues who usually work together. One-on-one sessions work far better, if you can manage them. Assure they have a short Quick Start Guide and the steps to get help when needed.

8. Set a place at the table for students. Involve students meaningfully as the public face of the assessment platform. Assemble this team with a strong faculty advocate to lead them. Choose students for this carefully and make sure they are all not graduating at once. Have them come up with a snappy name for the team. Invite them to meetings that matter and ask their opinion. Make it clear why they are vital and, while you’re at it, state the obvious: “imagine a resume with this experience on it!” Pay them a small stipend if you can. If not, at the very least, provide free assessment system accounts for them from the provider on a year-to-year basis.

Most of all, give them visibility. No cheap t-shirts. Provide high-quality golf or monogrammed shirts. Make assessment fashionable. The “uniform” also denotes their status as peer tutors who will assist both students and faculty if they have questions. Station them at peak times in places where students usually go to work. Institute a generic email drop box for people with local questions (eportfoliohelp@nameofyourschool.edu). Have the students monitor this. Triage student requests to generate some “brown baggers” over a few lunch hours in a lab to add some new skill needed by a new type of assignment output (like video). Faculty requests get a private, closed-door session. Ten discreet minutes and everyone will be happy.

9. Do the unexpected. For the first assignment, assess it in the system but do not give it a grade. Tell students they must improve it based on the feedback and re-submit it improved in order to earn a grade. No one is exempt – nothing is “good enough!” Do this every now and again randomly. The effect is that students get the idea that the comments and rubric descriptors matter — that awareness of becoming better is the main idea.

10. Leaders! You’re far from done. You are on stage as the “Head Cheerleader” and remover of obstacles. Engage, re-engage, cajole, support, delegate with authority, demand timely progress reports and, most importantly, maintain tempo at all costs. Comment on assessment feedback and findings as they roll in. This is the stuff that makes the reputation of your institution real. Accreditation, while important, cannot do this for you.

— Geoff Irvine is CEO of Chalk & Wire