At one time, assessment was seen as the purview of staff professionals and academic administrators, perhaps with some involvement by department chairs, but with very little involvement by rank-and-file faculty members. Staff with expertise in educational statistics were supposed to generate some kind of data, which would then be passed on to administrators who would in turn dutifully report it to accrediting associations, legislatures, or other external authorities. A good assessment program was one which satisfied the accreditors and left the faculty free to do their work in peace.
Fortunately, assessment is now conceptualized quite differently, as a resource to help faculty do their work more effectively. In fact, assessment is surprisingly harmonious with faculty work. First, it's inquiry-driven. Good assessment is like any other research project, requiring many of the same skills and commitments faculty bring to their disciplinary scholarship, and it has the potential to engage their intellectual curiosity. Second, it's about something most faculty really care about: student learning. Assessment is supposed to help us figure out if our students can actually do what we say they can do at graduation and beyond, and we benefit from evidence about the effects of our work. Third, it's a bridge-builder. Conversations about assessment, particularly when focused on outcomes that cross disciplinary boundaries, can bring together faculty from many different divisions and departments, faculty at different stages of their careers, and faculty and staff in different sectors of the institution. Finally, it’s about innovation and improvement. Most faculty not only want to do their work well, they want to find ways to do it even better. "Life-long learning" isn't just a slogan our institutions bandy about in our admissions materials; it's the lived experience of dedicated faculty members.
It's important to note that paying attention to assessment doesn't necessarily mean "doing more" (though it might mean "doing differently"). Assessment provides evidence that can help faculty to set priorities among an array of valuable activities that they are likely to undertake anyway; it doesn't necessarily require us to add yet one more valuable activity. For example, our Research Practices Survey results suggest that there are specific things we need to be emphasizing when we provide instruction and practice in research skills, but they also suggest that there are other things our students already know how to do. So we can use assessment evidence to set instructional priorities in cultivating students’ research skills. Similarly, if our Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) results suggest that, as a faculty, we need to learn more about how to help our students strengthen their critical thinking skills, we might decide to pursue a faculty development grant for a workshop in this area rather than for a workshop in something else, or for curriculum development in this area rather than in some other area. Or the Faculty Development Committee might be more likely to fund a project emphasizing critical thinking pedagogy rather than pedagogy in something else. We know that our faculty colleagues care about teaching and learning and do things all the time that are intended to improve both. Assessment data can help us make more informed decisions about where to put our efforts and target our resources.