Five Assessment Tips for Recreation Pros

assessment tips

Prepare for Fall 2021 with these five assessment tips from Greg Corack.

The past 18 months left a large gap in the higher education assessment world. Many Student Affairs educators simply did not see a need to assess virtual small-scale programs.

The days of sending out a survey to 3,000 participants at an event are long gone. And a 10% expected response rate for 30 participants does not return meaningful data.

Changes to program delivery, learning outcomes and overall attendance, coupled with students who have not set foot on a college campus for over a year, make assessment in fall 2021 more important than ever. Recreational sports programs are consistently searching for reliable data to inform decision-making processes. However, recent data no longer exists. A simple survey in August at your first event may help, but as we all plan for the “return to normal” now is the time.

Let’s rethink data collection and determine how we can prepare for the undeniable wave of uncertainty next semester with these assessment tips.

Ask the Right Questions

I remember creating my first paper survey back in graduate school. It was focused on improving one of our biggest sports, seven-on-seven soccer. The time it took to create a quality one-page survey with proper spacing and then make copies, and then hope those copies did not get soaked in the rain or snow, was tremendous as compared to the keystrokes and mouse clicks we are all accustomed to today.

One thing I learned back then and still carry with me today is don’t ask questions you are not prepared to address. All too often we ask questions in surveys regarding facility needs or new programs to offer. After analyzing data, we realize there is no plausible way to address these concerns.

There is no doubt your respondents will say, “We want more lighted fields, better turf or regulation size basketball courts.” But unless you have a $30-million construction project on the table, why would you ask that question? Craft your survey questions for answers you need:

  • Would you utilize this type of treadmill?
  • Would an extra 30 minutes of exercise time at 5 a.m. entice you?
  • Do you think more open climbing hours are needed?

Learn a Little

One thing I valued when supervising the Health Promotion area at my former institution was the constant assessment of student learning during educational sessions. A short pre-test followed by a post-event assessment showed student growth and knowledge acquisition.

The Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) advocates for recreational programs with defined learning outcomes illustrating the experiential education of our student participants. Every assessment we design should provide of analysis of learning outcomes, or at minimum, an examination of an administrative outcome.

Utilizing a survey to simply determine satisfaction for your services is great. However, when you already have a captive audience, find out what they are learning or what you need to do to provide education outside of the classroom. Remember we are all educators. We need to illustrate the valuable extracurricular learning our programs and services provide.

Keep It Simple

Everyone reading this has experienced the dreaded institutional email asking for your participation in an “important survey.” You click on the link on your office computer and enter your email for a chance to win a $25 gift card to the bookstore. Then 35 minutes and 452 questions later, you’ve shared everything, including your opinions on the new flowers at the campus bus stop. Those of you who complete these surveys are the outliers and not the students we serve today.

Your assessment instruments must be:

  • Cellphone compatible.
  • Completed in five to 10 minutes.
  • Presented in a way free from ambiguous terminology.

At best, you can hope for 10 to 15% response rate from the traditional undergraduate population. You should attempt to target a specific population purposefully.

A “How to Make Intramural Sports Better” survey sent to 5,000 participants will not provide the same quality responses as a survey targeted to “Improve Your Yoga Experience” sent to the 50 dedicated attendees of sunrise classes.

Test your survey on students at your front desk. If they cannot figure out the terminology or answer the questions quickly on a cellphone, chances are your participants cannot either.

It’s All About Delivery

In May 2017, East Carolina University (ECU) opened the new Health Sciences Student Center containing 30,000 square feet of recreational sports space.

From May to September, we saw tremendous user traffic with almost 500 participants on the weekdays. In late September we offered a participant survey to address facility needs, hours, services, etc. We administered the survey to 2,400 unique users during the previous four months. We saw a response rate of 27%.

Data gleaned from the survey guided purchasing decisions for equipment, aesthetic choices for wall coverings and new operating hours. What made the survey so impactful was the delivery method and timing:

  • Marketed the survey at the facility exit.
  • Provided incentives for on-site completion with provided iPads.
  • Used the terminology, “Help us change YOUR recreation center.”

The survey was pertinent to their needs, provided specific information in a timely manner and produced real change.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

One of the first lessons I learned when joining Student Affairs at ECU was to ask for help from our Student Affairs Assessment Research and Planning office. I knew how to set up an online survey and ask a few pointed questions. However, I did not know how to truly get the answers I was looking for from assessment projects.

We all want to go it alone and create our own survey. Sometimes though it’s better to find an existing and validated instrument. If you do not have available resources on your campus, ask a colleague or give credit to anything borrowed from another researcher. In our field, we tend to use the term, “Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.” Well, assessment is no different. You do not need a Master’s in Data Analytics to ask some questions or assess learning outcomes. You just need to craft a solid instrument with a little help from your friends.

Edwards Deming said it best: “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion.” The time to create an assessment is now. We all need to find the information to make the tough decisions for the anticipated “return to normal.”

Greg Corack, Ed.D., serves as the associate director of Leadership and Programs at East Carolina University Campus Recreation and Wellness. He began his career at James Madison University in intramural sports and eventually moved to Eastern Kentucky University for his first professional position as assistant director of Intramural and Club Sports. Greg has worked in a variety of capacities in his 15 years in the industry including experiences supervising indoor and outdoor facilities, health promotion, athletic training, adventure leadership and team training. He has presented at multiple state, regional and national conferences with a passion for action research and assessment. Greg earned doctorate of education from Eastern Kentucky University, a master of science and bachelor of science, both in sport management from James Madison University.

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