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evaluating practice

For educators the primary interest should always be the quality of the learning experience and how it may enhance, or inhibit, well-being. Evaluation is part of everyday practice and helps us to sustain our focus. Support page for chapter 6 of Informal Education
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reflection
approaches to evaluation
problems in evaluating informal education
evaluating informal education
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leslie sewell - looking at youth clubs
marie paneth - branch street
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camdenutd.jpg (11407 bytes)Evaluation is going on all the time and should not be just a one-off event. As we work we monitor what is happening, as it is happening. We reflect as we engage with others and with different situations. This involves evaluation - making judgements and putting a value on things. As a result, we are able to respond in more appropriate ways to situations.

Evaluation, in its original Latin sense, meant to strengthen. In recent years, evaluation has often come to mean something else. It has become a tool of funders wanting to judge what is ‘successful’, what ‘works’ and what should or should not be invested in. Rather than being an integral part of educating, this type of evaluation is more concerned with counting and comparing.

So what approaches to evaluation can be commonly found? Here we explore three: directed, negotiated and dialogical.

Informal educators are often obliged to undertake 'evaluations' in order to sustain funding. But education (especially informal education) is notoriously difficult to evaluate. What are the problems?

Just because evaluation is difficult it does not mean we should ignore or avoid it. Rather we must find ways of evaluating our work compatible with our values and concern to foster democracy. How do we do evaluate informal education?

Check out the Informal Education forum and discussion page.

Some questions to consider

In Informal Education at the end of chapter 6 we ask three questions. Here we give some brief responses.

1. What do you do to evaluate your work? What do others do to evaluate your work? Are these compatible?

Here it might be useful to look at what you do as you work; and whether you take time out from time to time to review the different aspects of your work.

The classic tension between the evaluation you do as part of your everyday work and that required by funders and managers, as we saw in the chapter, lies between a concern with outcome and attention to process. This may be an area that is worth exploring with others.

2. Can you think of ways in which statistics might be collected with regard to your work which would tell you and others what you are doing?

Increasingly, informal educators are required to submit statistics concerning their work. These are often needed (or felt to be needed) to match up performance with different policy initiatives. The problem is that the concern is largely with outcomes - and here the results of our work are notoriously difficult to identify. This has led to a good deal of invention and straightforward lying on returns forms!

Perhaps the most useful statistics to collect concern process and clientele - who you are working with, when and how. One way to approach this is via the categories we discuss around organizing the daily round.

3. ‘All you do is stand around and natter’, says a friend who regularly collects you from work. How might you produce evidence to show that this is not all that you do?

When talking about the work with others it is important that we stress and explain how conversation lies at the centre of our work - and how appearances can often be deceptive.

One common way of providing evidence is to move the ground from the provision of statistics to the telling of stories about the work. This allows people to get a feel for practice. We might give little case studies of work with individuals or groups; accounts of different activities we undertake and so on. This might include something about our aims, how we went about our role and so on. We may also include comments from the people involved - participants, other professionals, and local people. In this way others may come to understand a little more about the process of informal education.

© Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith
First published August 7, 1997.