And now for something completely different….

Hi, I’m the Lead Evaluator in the Center for Education Innovation (CEI). You may be asking, ‘what’s an evaluator?’ My parents asked me how to describe my job to their friends- and how on earth it relates to my degree in counselor education.  Let’s start with evaluation; I’ll save the counseling piece for another day.

Evaluation is an ugly word in my opinion, and I do think the field needs a new term, but that’s also another day, another forum. Evaluation implies external judgement, and in fact, that is exactly what it’s designed to be. Entities that fund projects want to know if their investment is/was worthwhile, and therefore they need an evaluator to make that determination. An evaluator develops measurements and deploys tools via the scientific method to gauge whether or not a project has merit. These surface definitions are incomplete, and can be misleading as to what the true nature and purpose of evaluation is. In fact, these terms are laden with implications about power- who has it, how is it used. As we know, judgement is in the eye of the beholder so to speak. The good news is that the field of evaluation is evolving, becoming more aware of the implications about power within its practices.  This evolution is similar in some ways to the shift toward active learning in computing pedagogy, which is the awareness that one size of teaching doesn’t fit all students.

Because I am not value free, as no one can be without bias of some form or another, I subscribe to two newer theoretical models of evaluation: empowerment and participatory. In my view, the common theme between these two approaches is the intent to engage the people involved in and impacted by the program (being evaluated) into the evaluative process. These models are dramatic shifts from the ‘evaluator as expert’ approach, which places the power of value judgments in the hands of evaluators (who are supposedly detached and objective).

Ok, so what? (My dissertation advisor repeatedly asked this question- and for which I am now grateful- thanks Jack!)  In terms of evaluating computing pedagogical approaches, the empowerment and participatory models mean that the voices of students, faculty, and the community are equally important in deeming the value of teaching strategies and the quality of learning experiences. In other words, experts who are detached from the real experiences of participants are not making the value determination, instead, the collective community is judging. As evaluation is not ‘done to people’ (Patton, 1990) in these models, education is not something that is performed on students. A central mission of the CEI is the scholarly investigation of computing pedagogy, to test out new ways of teaching computing that differ from the  traditional view of computing education as lecture plus lab, sink or swim.  Some of these new ways of teaching have already been presented in our blog, and I refer to them broadly as engagement pedagogy. These teaching practices are engaging because they create interactive space in the classroom, where students and faculty work together. This is very different from the ‘sage on the stage’ approach, which, like the ‘evaluator as expert’ model, creates power barriers. See these sources for discourse on power distance. As an evaluator, I seek to hear from many voices about perceptions, experiences, outcomes, not just the ‘resident experts.’ In engaging computing pedagogy, we seek to include the students who have often been overlooked in this discipline. Together we seek inclusion, and reduction of institutional bias that unconsciously suppresses the voices of the already marginalized populations in our society.

Onward we go.

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