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Waypoints

December 10, 2012 Comments off

For the past few days, I have temporarily placed my primary hat of librarianship on the rack and taken up the Stetson hat of assessment to attend the 2012 SACS Annual Meeting in Dallas with some colleagues. With assessment firmly on the brain, I am finally getting around to a post that I have been meaning to share for some time. My institution completed a reaccreditation site visit this past spring, concluding a lengthy, two-year self-study process. Or so one might think. The site visit does bring a sense of finality to a self-study, but there is another way to view the assessment activity that drives the self-study process.

waypoint symbolAt the initial meeting for the site visit, the following statement about the reaccreditation process was offered: “It’s not a destination; it’s a journey.” Off and on since that time, I have reflected on that statement. And I consistently end up thinking about one thing:

Waypoints.

Anyone who has ever played a flight sim game or actually flown an airplane is familiar with the concept of the waypoint. In flight navigation, a waypoint is a specific point along a flight route that serves as a marker or guidepost to help keep you on your correct flight path. One dictionary defines a waypoint as “the co-ordinates of a specific location as defined by a GPS.” Another dictionary offers this definition: “An intermediate point on a route or line of travel.” In other words, it’s not an (ultimate) destination, but rather a (point along the) journey.

Waypoints. Yes.

The reaccreditation site visit is typically seen as the “capstone” event of a self-study process, bringing much-needed closure to a long-suffering process that includes massive amounts of data collection and review, many sleepless nights, more meetings that you can shake a stick at, a few more sleepless nights, hours upon hours of writing, and even more sleepless nights. Our minds need some finality to the whole process. We need time to breathe. To quote Jack Nicholson from “A Few Good Men” [with some translative license]: You WANT this to be the end! You NEED this to be the end!

And yet.

There is an ongoing nature to the whole process. Even after the site visit, for example, there still remain those follow-up reports in response to recommendations of the visiting team. In many ways, today’s accreditation process never really ends. It shouldn’t end. The end-game for assessment is improvement and effectiveness, and I believe we will never reach the bottom of the jar of improvement and greater effectiveness. Yes, the site visit could be seen as a singular event in time. Underneath that event, however, flows a steady stream of ongoing activity–a river of assessment. Assessment is an ongoing process of identification, collection, measurement, and review followed by a determination of what level of success is reflected in the outcomes and a plan for using what is learned to benefit and guide going forward. And that is followed by another round of identification, collection, measurement, review, and so on.

So on the return flight back to South Carolina tomorrow afternoon, my colleagues and I will be in a plane that will (hopefully) be hitting its waypoints in order to effectively reach the GSP airport. Likewise, when we get back to campus, we will be aiming for waypoints to guide us through the continual journey of assessment. Happy flying, everyone.

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Categories: Assessment, Education Tags: ,