Monday, August 27, 2012

Interview with Darby Roberts: Learning Is Not A Sprint

Welcome back to another Fall school semester! As you're getting started on a new semester, we'd like to share a great new resource that has been recently published.
Learning is Not a Sprint: Assessing and Documenting Student Leader Learning in Cocurricular Involvement offers multiple perspectives and a framework to establish and document student learning in the cocurricular environment, with a specific focus on student leaders and student employees. It provides student affairs professionals with a theory base on student learning and student leadership, but also addresses the realities of the current state of higher education.

This book has proven to be a very interesting read, and we asked Editor Darby Roberts to give us the inside scoop on the book.

Can you give me a brief overview of the book and why a book was written on this subject?

The book begins with an overview of the current context of higher education and why student affairs should be concerned with student learning, then describes the theoretical foundation of leadership. The book continues on with what employers expect from graduates, the role of advisors and supervisors in student learning and change, and methods to assess student learning in the co-curricular. The book finishes with the challenges of creating change in organizations, assessing projects like SLLO and aggregating student learning, and where we see this topic going in the future.

We thought that this was an important topic because student affairs is now expected to engage in the student learning process, assess programs and learning, and demonstrate effectiveness in those areas. Although there are other books about leadership, student learning in the curricular, and assessment, there was not a book that addressed the unique learning opportunity that student leaders have in the co-curricular.

How long did it take to compose the book?

It took a little over a year or so from the initial proposal to NASPA until the final version to be approved. Once we got the concept approved by NASPA, we had a fairly aggressive timeline to ensure the book would be ready for the 2012 NASPA Assessment and Persistence Conference.

How were the chapter subjects chosen?

Kathy and I brainstormed what topics we thought would provide context for the project, in addition to more tangible information that student affairs professionals could use in their daily lives. We knew that we needed to expand on the current literature and broaden the perspective from the Texas A&M SLLO project to student learning in the co-curricular at a variety of institution types.

Technology was mentioned in the book as a pivotal part of student learning. How do you see it influencing student learning and the student affairs profession?

Technology influences how we communicate with students, how students experience college and learning, and how we can document student learning. It will only become more ingrained in what we do. We see the potential for students to use technology to document their learning, record their reflections, and access resources. Think about how smartphones can be used for interacting with websites, taking videos and pictures, tweeting, and blogging. Students who are expected to participate in electronic portfolios can upload examples of their leadership and learning outcomes.

What is the most important preparation a student affairs professional can do to contribute to the goals of student learning (providing proof of impact)?

I would say that student affairs professionals need to keep current about the priorities of higher education in general and their institution in particular. In addition, they need to be knowledgeable about the concepts of learning outcomes, assessment, advising/supervising, and other areas that appropriate to their responsibilities. Really, student learning is everyone’s responsibility, so it is important that we know what we are doing.

What would you recommend as the first steps for student affairs professionals to begin to integrate these tools?

As Nike use to say, “Just Do It.” In reality, advisors/supervisors should understand the culture of the students/organization they work with to tailor their approach. Not all students appreciate the value of a rubric, but may like the individual approach of a learning contract. Others get excited about the creativity of photography, while others really like to reflect in the form of a journal entry. From the beginning of the relationship, the advisor/supervisor can be more intentional about their conversations with the student workers/leaders. For example, instead of asking students what they did this weekend, they could ask students what they learned in class last week that they could apply to their leadership position/work environment. Advisors/supervisors should start where they are comfortable to build their own confidence. And, if one approach does not work, they should have the freedom to try something different.

How can staff/faculty utilize these concepts in the academic environment?

Some of the tools we talk about in the book actually come from the academic environment. Some students are familiar with rubrics because they have seen them in their courses. Examples such as one-minute papers come from a book about classroom assessment techniques. The classroom lends itself to direct measures of knowledge through tests, papers, and projects during a set period of time with a cohort of students; student leadership is not that structured.

Is there a benefit to students reading this book?

I think that would be a great idea. The book is written in a tone that would appeal to students. It would also give them insight into what the institution, employers, and advisors expect from them.  During the recent SLLO Orientation and Retreat, it struck me that we should give the book to the Student Body President.

What is your favorite SLLO tool and why?

That’s a good question. They all have their advantages. The organization I advise is a little different that the traditional organization, so I’m still adapting. We have used rubrics for self-assessment and group discussion, but this year we will be trying learning contracts. I do appreciate that they give me opportunities at their executive meetings and general meetings to talk about leadership and their learning.

If there was one take away message you wanted folks to gain from reading this book, what would it be?

It’s time to engage students in their learning. You don’t have to know everything and do everything exactly right the first time, but you have to start somewhere. There are lots of tools, people, and other resources available to help you.

Purchase your copy of the book at the NASPA Bookstore!

Friday, August 3, 2012


Assessment… the word often makes people cringe on the inside and sometimes visible sweat may start to form around parts of the temple and forehead area. But as the years have passed, for me personally, I have learned that assessing is not as scary as people can make is seem. (This statement also does not count the fact that I worked a whole summer as a grad practicum in an assessment office!)

                If you examine the word assessment you will find the root word assess, which according to, means to estimate or judge the value, worth or importance of something. Who wouldn’t want to know the value of something in which they have invested time or effort, especially if it affects what they do on a daily basis? Well in the field of student affairs what we do on a daily basis involves students and most importantly, student learning. Each time we interact with a student our mission should be to facilitate an environment for learning that enriches the value of their overall experience in higher education. But we can’t know if we’ve achieved this goal without assessment!

                Our students often tell us directly or indirectly the skills and knowledge they are looking to gain from the responsibilities they take on as leaders, student workers, or organization members. They look to us to help them structure their journey to achieve these goals. And most of them want lots of feedback to know how they are progressing along the way. So instead of running the other direction when you realize this may require you to break out your handy dandy Assessing Student Learning book by Linda Suskie, take a minute to stop and relax instead. There are several tools out there that can help both you and the students your serve.

                Suppose your student wants to improve their communication skills. Both of you can take a look at the Interpersonal Communication Rubric that’s located on the Student Leader Learning Outcome Website ( There are several categories such as listening, eye contact, and voice that the student can reflect over using the rubric. And each category in the rubric is specifically outlined with detailed descriptions to help a student recognize where they are (novice through expert) in relation to their skills in each area. So you don’t have to create anything. It’s already done! Woo hoo! Taking the time to go through this activity with the student may seem daunting at first, but the best way to get over that fear is to just do it. We’re all constantly learning new things.

                So have no fear, SLLO is here! And we want you to just take a leap as you work to show the value of the learning that takes place with your students every day. No matter how big or small, every bit matters.