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Needs Assessment for the Dept. Instructional Technology Activity

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We often teach about needs assessment as an integral part of the instructional design process, which it is. It is also a form of research that can be valuable in setting direction for a program or project. This Guided Design exercise takes you through the process of designing a needs assessment for the Dept. of Instructional Technology.

Once again, you should be aware that there are many ways that a needs assessment study can be conducted. In this exercise, there will be a number of branches to the program that you can try out, allowing more flexibility in responding that has been evident in past Guided Design exercises.

For background on needs assessment, why they are conducted, and a simple example of one person's (hypothetical) practicum project, click here:

Other referenced materials:

Task 1: State the Goals of the Work

At least every 5 years, the Dept. of Instructional Technology receives a visit as part of the accreditation process for the National Council on Teacher Education (NCATE). As part of that process, the Department is required to conduct surveys of alumni and other groups, to incorporate their feedback into a Self-Study document that must be produced prior to the visit of the accreditation team.

As the resident advocate of Needs Assessment, I find my services in demand each time a Self Study report is required. (People know that Needs Assessment was my dissertation area, and they like to remind me of that).

It seems that the time has arrived once again. Our Dept. Head, Dr. Byron Burnham, lets me know that such a visit is about 9 months away and that once again, a needs assessment study would be welcome. (I wasn't exactly volunteered into the job, but almost). I tell him I will go ahead and do that.

Now that I'm committed, I have to decide exactly what it is that I will do.

Answer the following questions and compare your answer with the Expert's.

Group or individual task:

What is my objective?

  • To convince a team of outsiders that we're OK?
  • To come up with new goals for planning purposes?
  • To stay out of trouble?

Expert Feedback

My immediate problem is obtaining feedback for the department to consider in doing its planning. I know that whatever I produce will be examined carefully by an outside team of visitors and that it will probably get a cursory examination by fellow faculty members. My actual problem is a lack of knowledge about the difference between what the Dept. should be and what it actually is.

Task 2: Gather information

Having done a few of these needs assessments before, I have some idea of the kinds of questions I'll want to have answered by the study. Still, this is a new situation, and the kinds of technologies in vogue are quite different than they were 5 years before. I need to be clear on what kinds of questions I want to have answers for.

Answer the following questions and compare your answer with the Expert's

Group or individual task:

What research questions would provide me with the information I need. (list 3 or 4)

Expert Feedback

After some reflection, I decide that my main questions are:

  • What kind of needs assessments have been done before?
  • How has the department acted on them in the past?
  • What kinds of skills are current students obtaining in completing their programs at the Masters degree level?
  • What kinds of skills should they be obtaining? (and how large is the gap between #s 3 and 4?)

Task 3: Locate Relevant Sources

I have access to reports produced by the Dept. in the past. I also have some references on hand about Needs Assessment. It might help me to know what other current information I should obtain as I begin this study.

Task: Answer the following questions and compare your answer with the Expert's

What sources of information should be checked out, and in what order?

Expert Feedback

I decide to go looking for needs assessment options on the Web. I also go looking for documents that will give me more background on the Department's past performance.

For reference purposes, I have on hand two books about Needs Assessment:

  • Belle Ruth Witkin and James Altschuld (1995) Planning and Conducting Needs Assessments: A Practical Guide. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, pp. 302.
  • James W. Altschuld and Belle Ruth Witkin. (2000). From Needs Assessment to Action: Transforming Needs in to Solution Strategies. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, pp. 282.

I also have some previous needs assessment studies and self studies. These are the kinds of documents that you would try to review in beginning a new needs assessment study. (If you were lucky, these sorts of documents would be made available).

Task 4: Data Gathering

Take time to read over these reports, not necessarily in detail, but enough to familiarize yourself with what has been done to assess needs in the past:

Utah State Department of Instructional Technology, Needs Assessment, Spring Semester 1999
Final Report of the Needs Assessment for the USU IT Department, 2004
Donald P.Ely & M. David Merrill, Report of the Off-Campus Review committee for the Dept. of Instructional Technology, Utah State University, October 20-21, 1983.
USU Dept of Instructional Technology External Review committee, April 22-23, 1991.
Strategic Plan for the Dept. of Instructional Technology, 1992.

Task: Answer the following questions and compare your answer with the Expert's

Summarize your findings addressing the questions below:

  • What are the main findings?
  • Do you see any signs of progress?
  • Are the problems cited recurring ones?

Expert Feedback

The main points from the 1967 report, using a questionnaire based upon the Chisholm & Ely book, are 9 critical needs, ranked from 1 to 9 (1 = top):

  • Routine maintenance and repair
  • Proposal writing and finding information for funding
  • Closed circuit TV
  • Inspecting equipment and arranging for maintenance
  • Using research to solve current problems
  • Identifying needs of students and teachers
  • Communicate goals of media program to public
  • Long range operational planning
  • Models for pilot testing instructional materials

In the 1995 needs assessment, priority areas are given for the different program tracks. For all graduates, the top 5 areas are:

  • PC (IBM personal computer) applications and systems
  • Obtaining funding & grants
  • Personnel management (skills)
  • Interpersonal skills & group interaction
  • Technical writing & documentation

It is noteworthy that in the years following this study, that the Dept. faculty has moved more toward Windows based environments and less toward Macintosh applications, the most visible reminder being the 18 student station Pentium computer lab installed in the Dept. in 1997.

The other reports give interesting detail about the evolution of the department. There are similar threads in the various report findings: concern with student skills in both software and hardware familiarity, skills in proposal writing, communication in both oral and written forms, and the development of interpersonal communication skills.

For the External Regents Review a concern is expressed about a potential gap in expertise posed by impending retirements (Dr's. David Merrill and Steven Soulier). There is also some coaching about the Department not taking on extra responsibilities, but remaining focused upon the central mission of the department.

The Needs Assessment revealed gaps in the following areas:

  • There needs to be more fidelity between the classroom environment and the context of the workplace. Most of the USU IT students will work in the corporate environment upon graduation, and they will require a sense of operating as a professional in the business world.
  • There needs to be even more integration of the applied skills and tools classes with the learning theory and instructional design classes. Applied skill and tool classes are important but must be taught in the context of instructional design, with real problems.
  • There needs to be more emphasis on technical and professional writing, and more opportunities for students to improve their writing skills. Many graduates reported inadequate instructor feedback on their writing.
  • There needs to be more emphasis on emerging Internet technologies and web-based skills. The USU IT Dept. is not competitive with other similar programs in thesis arena.
  • There needs to be more opportunity for students to have first-hand experience teaching. TA-ships, presentations, and occasional opportunities to lead classroom discussion do not build adequate corporate leadership skills.

Task 5: Generate Possible Solutions

In the model for needs assessment that I use, I generally try to identify a Quality Assurance Committee of 3-6 people who can help determine the right way to assess the needs and who can oversee the quality of the effort. (One advantage to this committee: when you are ready to report back findings, you have a built-in political base). In previous needs assessments, the quality assurance committee has consisted of 3-4 faculty members, including the Dept. Head.

Task: Answer the following questions and compare your answer with the Expert's

Assume that you have located this group and oriented them to what you want from them (ideas and oversight that the research is professionally sound). Now, it is up to you to come up with ideas for how to gather data about the department.

Take some time to brainstorm these ideas now. How will you go about collecting the data that you need?

Expert Feedback

The group conducting the needs assessment, in this case two classes of doctoral students, one in Logan (8 students) and one at the Davis County Center (about 14 students), all taking the INST 7300 class, Qualitative and Interpretive Research in Instructional Technology, came up with 5 methods for conducting this study:

  • A review of literature on instructional technology as a field and the kinds of changes occurring in other comparable programs.
  • An e-mail survey of alumni
  • A telephone survey of selected employers
  • Face-to-face interviews with faculty
  • A paper and pencil survey of current students

Recognizing that each of these has their advantages and disadvantages, it would depend upon the constraints to determine which of these were feasible.

Task 6: Specify the constraints

Before launching into any of these alternatives, we need to think through the limitations on resources that must be considered.

Task: Answer the following questions and compare your answer with the Expert's

From what you can infer from this situation, what would be the most pressing constraints?

Expert Feedback

Our class listed these as our constraints:

  • The effort had to be done within a 16 week period allowed by the semester system.
  • Money: we could have funding for long distance calls (not to exceed $300) and supplies and postage
  • Labor: we could ask for limited help from departmental secretaries for mailing, photocopying, and so forth. Student effort would have to be no more than would be expended in 22 graduate students each completing a personal term paper.
  • Validity: It must be valid and reliable research, done well enough that the Quality Assurance Committee would vouch for its credibility. In addition, we would want it to be of sufficient quality that it could be published or at least selected for distribution through the ERIC system.

Task 7: Select a solution

Given the possibilities identified in Task 4 and the constraints from Task 5, suggest how you would go about conducting the study.

Task: Answer the following questions and compare your answer with the Expert's

Take time to design the elements of the study, including possible questions to ask, people to sample if a survey is done, and ways that findings would be analyzed.

Expert Feedback

The document "Final Report of the Needs Assessment for the USU IT Dept", 2004 submitted by Shane DeMars, Mark D. Mason, Jose Gomez, Corbin Bell, Preston P. Parker, Shelley Henson, Nick Eastmond is the outcome of this study.

In fact, as 2 classes we took on each of the 5 ways of doing the needs assessment listed above, working in teams. The writing and analysis was completed in the next term by Shane DeMars as part of his graduate assistantship

My suggestion is that you read the " Executive Summary " section of the report quite carefully and that you then read other sections of the report that hold interest for you. (This information is fairly recent and should show things about the Department that you may have wondered before.

Final Report of the Needs Assessment for the USU IT Dept

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . factpetersen. (2007, August 08). Needs Assessment for the Dept. Instructional Technology Activity. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License