Library Assessment Conference 2016, Day 1: “Decision-based evidence making.”

Lisa Hinchliffe gets the gold star today for her hit line in this morning’s second keynote, asserting that many organizations who claim to be in the business of evidence-based decision making are actually doing the opposite–making decisions and finding evidence to back up the decisions already made or, as I interpreted it, deciding to make evidence for the sake of it.

Lisa’s keynote, in which she referred to libraries as “collectivist institutions“, was a library-focused complement to the more general first keynote, delivered by Molly Broad, President of the American Council on Education. Broad gave an overview of the state of American higher education today, touching on the importance of values unique to American academic culture. Some of her suggestions struck a sour note for me, including her remark that students at private liberal arts colleges should take courses in predictive analytics to increase their employability. She also emphasized the need for corporate partnerships to offset the loss of higher education revenue since the Recession, and cited the collaboration between GE and Northeastern University as an example. I do appreciate that she highlighted the role of contingent labor (they compose nearly 70% of the teaching force across higher education) and she questioned how we can fulfill our value of shared governance when our labor model doesn’t support fully engaged faculty.

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Maybe it’s just me.

I got a hug from Camille Chesley, who lived in the same dorm as me when we were undergrads at Oberlin College–she’s now at the University at Albany. I met Katie Fox with the Colorado State Library, and I also met Denise Pan, who departed Auraria Library this summer, and whose office I now occupy.

After the keynote, I stayed for the keynote reaction session and was surprised that the comments and questions were about assessment generally, and no one (at least that I can recall) questioned or pushed back on Molly Broad’s remarks. I thought Scott Walter from DuPaul University did a particularly nice job of articulating the need to the put the library’s work in the broader context of your institution and higher education overall. He noted that it is a significant shift, not just philosophically but technologically, to integrate the library’s data into the institution’s data, and the library’s narrative into the institution’s narrative. When it comes to finding a starting point, he recommended aligning your library’s assessment projects with institution-level or college-level goals.

Lunch was an abomination. Let’s not talk about it. (Honestly, I’m wondering if I would be more or less offended if this conference didn’t offer any food at all.)

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Students don’t watch your videos. Ever. At all. Give up and go get a business degree.

After lunch I attended the marathon nine-papers-in-105-minutes, Short Papers: Learning 1. I was really happy to see a couple of papers that appeared to be about community colleges but, after witnessing the presentations, the content left me wanting more. Heather Gillanders from Tacoma Community College gave a talk about assessing their online information literacy course–using a pre/post-test with a sample of 33 students. We already know how I feel about decision-making based on this kind of methodology, and while I do believe that post-tests can be an adequate tool in some cases, I don’t think it was well-used in this institution’s context. TCC serves thousands of students and I wish they had created a project with bigger impact and used a broader sample.

I also resisted the urge to jump out of my seat when Karen Grigg at UNC Greensboro noted that students from community colleges and adult students scored lowest on their in-take assessment of information literacy skills, then went on to describe an instrument that assessed student’s “comfort” with finding books. My need for a conference chair seat belt was even more pronounced when a presenter (I can’t remember who now because all nine papers blurred together) said that they’d like to correlate student ID numbers with assessment results to further disaggregate student learning data based on transfer status, military status, financial aid status, and so on.

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Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

(Remind me that I said that when I’m having dinner with Andrew Asher tomorrow night  and I’m contemplating my third Negroni.)

For me, the best paper was “Adventures in Framework Assessment” from Clemson University, presented by Anne Grant and Camille Cooper. They described an instructional scenario where a course faculty wanted 16+ databases demonstrated (!) and they turned it into a hands-on, engaging learning experience for students. Guess what? They didn’t demonstrate any databases. They split students into small groups, gave them databases to try, and had them report back to each other. Better yet, they didn’t create a LibGuide in advance (and nobody died). Instead, they created a LibGuide template and the class worked together to create the LibGuide during the instruction session. They said the instructor was uncertain at first, but then became just as interested and engaged as the students, and the students were thrilled to learn that there’s “more than just Google.”

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Anne Grant said she felt like an “assessment faker”; I say get that Devil outta yr head.

The front desk concierge said it’s best to see the monuments here in DC at night, when they’re lit up. If I can get away from the costumes-encouraged, heavy hors d’oeuvres-circulating reception this evening, I’d like to go see them. What would you do with two nights in DC?

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Listening to: Constant. Incessant. Drilling.

Currently reading: Today Will be Different by Maria Semple.

Wearing: Big hair, polka dots, my Penelopi Jones ring.