Assessing impact on students, faculty, the institution, and the community

February 25, 2015

It has been said that good community service programs keep track of everything they re doing, but great community service efforts are too busy doing things to waste time keeping track. Miami-Dade Community College might beg to differ.

Miami-Dade boasts of a host of leading and innovative efforts in community service. At the same time, Bob Exley, the assistant to the president and director of the community service program, has been able to compile a vast amount of data assessing the impact that the program has had on students, faculty, the institution, and the community. For Dr. Exley, high-quality assessment is a must. The information he has been able to collect has been crucial to convincing funders, faculty members, and others to support service-learning at Miami-Dade.

Three questions are central to conducting good assessment: What do you want to assess? How will you assess it? And what purpose will it serve? The way in which the program at Miami-Dade answers each of these questions can be instructive for others. At Miami-Dade, as at many institutions, the answer to what they want to assess is easy: student learning. Questions posed to students, faculty, and community organizations all focus on gauging the effect that service-learning has had on student learning. This unifying theme helps maintain consistency and focus within the assessment effort. How assessment will occur is perhaps the most difficult question to answer. Many campuses include assessment as an afterthought, in the process adding more paperwork and time that people would rather spend in other ways. At Miami-Dade, assessment is built into the program from the beginning. By thoroughly incorporating assessment tools into service efforts, assessment is seen not as a burden, but simply as part of the process. For instance, all students at Miami-Dade who participate in service-learning receive a handbook, which explains service-learning and includes forms that students fill out in order to receive academic credit for service-learning. These forms have been designed with assessment in mind, and to date have provided data on more than 1,000 students. Reflection that takes place after service projects can also double as assessment, as long as it is done with forethought. Faculty provide assessment by answering brief questions whenever they receive mini-grants or participate in workshops on service-learning. In addition, every community organization that works with the college is required to send a representative to a training session in which that representative is introduced to the ideas of service-learning. In this way, these agencies can provide an informed assessment in the form of a ten-minute phone call at the end of a student s time serving them.

No matter how much information is collected, it is useless if it is not sent back out. This is perhaps the most neglected part of assessment. At Miami-Dade, data are put together in formats to be presented to important decision-makers like funders and the college s board of trustees. Data from students are also compiled and sent to faculty members and community organizations so that they can see whether the specific students with whom they are working are benefiting from the experience.

Miami-Dade s assessment efforts continually pay off. With information from more than 1,000 students, 52 community organizations, and dozens of faculty both involved and not involved in service-learning, Miami-Dade has been able to evaluate policies to support service-learning and garner strong support from its board.

 

From Service Matters 1998: Engaging Higher Education In the Renewal of America s Communities and American Democracy

Joshua Young, College-Wide Director, Center for Community Involvement, jyoung@mdcc.edu

CCI web site

Miami-Dade Community College - FL, Florida
President: EDUARDO PADR?N
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