One of the most important decisions to make about any assessment project is timing, and a resident assessment is no different. You’ve considered your purpose, what you want to learn, how you want to use your results, and selected your survey instrument. But, when is the best time to collect your data?
I was approached at last summer’s annual ACUHO-I conference about the best time to conduct our Benchworks Resident Assessment—in particular, if I had any data on whether collecting data in the fall or spring semester is most beneficial. One could look at counts of how many institutions administer this survey during a particular semester and assume that the semester with the “most” institutions would be correct. But, even then, the numbers don’t really answer the question.
There is a lot that goes into the decision of timing. From the purpose of the project to practical considerations related to availability of resources and your campus calendar, choosing the optimal time to conduct a resident assessment is complicated. There are advantages and disadvantages to conducting during each period. Fundamentally, it should tie back to your purpose for conducting the assessment.
In the end, there is no “best” time for conducting a resident assessment.
But, just because there is no best overall time doesn’t mean there isn’t abest for your campus.
For instance, a fall survey would work well if your purpose is to use the findings to make changes. The thinking is that in hearing from this year’s students, a program can make changes in spring based on the feedback. Some campuses also use the survey results to better know the students in their building. In other words, the focus is on smaller units and connecting results with the people responsible for students in those units. So, if either of these scenarios fits your purpose for collecting data, a fall resident assessment makes sense.
On the other hand, if your purpose is to measure outcomes, in particular learning, then a spring survey might be a better option. Whether the learning relates to interactions, academic skills, diversity, self-management, or any other key outcomes, allowing your students as much time as possible to learn is important. You have an entire year with your students; a spring assessment allows you to make the most of it and implement your entire learning curriculum before measuring how much your residents learned from it. A spring survey increases the likelihood that our efforts made a positive impact on our students.
In addition, regardless of fall versus spring, if your purpose is to add to longitudinal data and look at how learning and satisfaction have changed over time, you likely want to conduct your resident assessment whenever previous assessments have been sent to students, regardless of which term it is. Otherwise, you may compromise your longitudinal data. And, showing improvement over multiple years can have great value to a housing program.
Overall, there is no right answer. Instead, it is about what is right for your campus. The decision on timing ties back to what the data is being used for, by whom, and when. When it comes to assessment, that is really the question – what is your purpose for conducting the assessment? The answer to that question should guide method decisions such as timing.