What I’m reading: “Making a Difference: Improving Residence Life Assessment Practices”


I pre-ordered this text when it was first announced on ACUHO-I’s website. I supervise Residence Hall Directors and they frequently express a desire to learn more about assessment in a professional context. As an introduction to assessment strategies and a primer for staff on structuring and collecting data, I strongly recommend this book. 

In my opinion, the most helpful chapter in this book is chapter 3, “Data Collection Systems” by Rebecca Goldstein and Sean Sukys. In this chapter they describe and illustrate the importance of data organization and ensuring data accuracy. They introduce concepts many have heard, but do not fully understand, like Primary and Foreign keys and their utility in joining data sets. The specific tools of data collection and analysis are introduced and described, with a focus on the strengths and limitations of spreadsheets and databases. Demystifying these mechanics is important to understanding the proliferation of various assessment platforms, as well as the pros & cons of data collection methods.

The information in chapter 3 can be immediately employed in creating useful and informed data collection paths. If the professional was inspired to learn nothing more than how to join tables based on a shared unique attribute, their ability to use existing data sets would be immediately expand the data available, the scope of analysis they can undertake, and the efficiency with which the analysis could take place.

I asked my resident directors to begin collecting data this fall on program attendance, requiring the inclusion of student IDs in this table. After I assign this table as required reading, I think they’ll have a much better idea WHY that was a requirement and the importance of the student ID number is linking one set of information (program attendance) to another (resident demographics). The illustrations in this chapter do a great job of showing the reader how to relational databases add value without being too technical.

The value of chapter 3 doesn’t diminish the book’s other contributions. Reminding the reader that assessment must be communicated to target audiences in a timely manner is a persistent, and important, theme. Ethics of data collection, as well as trade-offs inherent in selecting an assessment model, flush out a set of important concepts that must be addressed early in any assessment project.

Editor Kirsten Kennedy expertly arranged the chapters kept a consistent narrative in both theme and language throughout the chapters. The book weighs in at 206 pages and can easily be read in a single sitting. The price is very reasonable and it can be purchased through ACUHO-I’s bookstore.  If you’ve been putting off learning about assessment in a housing context, or have been looking for an accessible resource to help develop assessment skills in staff, don’t hesitate to add this book to your collection.