Six Weeks and Two Days of Exploring, Sharing, and Connecting

Reflections from participants in AIR’s new online course – A Holistic Approach to IR

In May of 2017, AIR launched its newest professional development opportunity, a hybrid course featuring online and face-to-face content. The following reflection is based on a compilation of feedback from course participants:

As I craft this reflection, I am sitting in a meeting room at the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel with nearly 80 people. I am at AIR’s new course, A Holistic Approach to Institutional Research, surrounded by colleagues from every sector of higher education who work in a wide variety of roles, from entry-level IR professionals to senior administrators, and everything in between. We are discussing what it means to work in IR and how we can best serve the missions of our institutions. This in-person seminar is the culminating experience of a six-week online course, and a light has come on for me—I finally understand what it means to be an IR professional. I have learned a lot, refreshed my understanding of ideas and concepts, and garnered new perspectives on familiar topics. (Editor's Note: fictional account based on compilation of attendee feedback.)

The following perspectives, captured in the quotes below, reflect the tremendous value of this course overall, and the opportunity to learn with and from a cohort of individuals with varied backgrounds and experiences.


​I was looking to gain some wisdom from other folks in the field. One of the things I’ve found interesting was that it wasn’t just a c​ourse for newcomers to the field. There were a lot of seasoned professionals in the IR field…so I was able to speak to people from different institutions, get an understanding of what happens at both similar institutions and at different types of institutions, but on top of that, learn from folks who are also experts in the field. The in-person meeting was definitely my favorite part [of the course].

– Pa Thao, St. Olaf College

​When I participated in the face-to-face seminar, I came into it not expecting much, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find 73 people…and I am best friends with 6 of them now…. The mentors who were leading the seminar actually shared their personal stories, so there was a personal aspect to it, it wasn’t just bookish knowledge. It was a reinforcement of the [course] papers [and] the videos, but it was also relating to [others]. I got to know these people so intimately that I think I have a professional network that will help me out throughout my career.

– Ankita Agarwal, University of Texas System Administration

​I would tell a colleague to take this course as it’s a really good introduction to what the field of instructional research is. Data is pretty commonsense, but this course gives you the language to talk about it in a concise manner, and also a clearer way for other people to understand what it is that you’re doing.

– Trish Happel, Colorado Community College System Online

​This course allowed me to confirm my standing of knowledge in this field, and helped me understand more about what the field is all about, and how to move forward with this type of work. The people I met will be lifelong assets to my career and professional networks.

– Taylor Brooks, The American University of Paris

​The face-to-face [seminar] was the most enjoyable portion of the course for me. I like the videos and the papers because they helped me think about my own knowledge of institutional research, but really being able to connect face-to-face with other people who were working in the field, who had different experiences, and different ideas about how to do institutional research, and to be able to have that interaction with them is probably the most valuable thing for me.

Bethany Miller, Cornell College

The papers referenced in the comments above include:

  • What it Means to Work in Institutional Research

  • Transforming Data into Information for Decision Support

  • Data Management and Governance

  • Applied Research Design for Institutional Research

  • Data-Informed Decision Cultures

For more information about the course, including fall 2017 registration, visit the Holistic Approach webpage or contact



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