505 – Evaluation – Post #1

In the first week and a half of studying evaluation I have learned about the importance of evaluating the long term impact of a program, or in my case as a secondary educator, long term retention of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. It has been enlightening to consider how summative evaluation at the end of a unit will measure the immediate success of the achievement of learning outcomes for the moment, but to evaluate the success of a program a measurement of true understanding over time would be essential. Unfortunately, in our current educational system we evaluate and move on to the next topic. I recently was at a conference on educational technology that featured Salaman Khan, the founder of the Khan Academy, as a keynote speaker (via Skype). His online videos and accompanying web based exercises are becoming more and more popular in mainstream education as a way to “flip” the classroom; the students watch and learn the material at home and do the projects that deepen understanding in classroom with the teacher as facilitator. The exercises on his web site require mastery before moving to the next level. He used the example in a TED talk (see below) and at this conference of learning to ride a bicycle. If after instruction, a child masters 80% of the skill necessary to ride a bike it seems ridiculous for that student to continue on with Unicycles 101; this is what we do in the school system. Of course, it may not be realistic to expect that all students will achieve 100% mastery at each level of learning, but the analogy endures.
This Khan Academy example also relates to the topic of evaluating impact in that some criticism for this approach is that it relies on rote learning that may achieve mastery in the moment, but will students retain the knowledge, skills, or attitude over time? In other words, has the learning been truly internalized?

Another area of interest for me coming out of the first days of this course has been the notion of credibility of the evaluation and the evaluator. The evaluation process must be part of the development of the overall plan of the program. In fact, the evaluation process should be developed in conjunction with the development of learning outcomes. In building Project Based Learning units it is commonly suggested that one should start with the end in mind. Develop a list of learning outcomes based on content standards and develop procedures for measuring successful achievement of these outcomes before developing the specific strategies of the unit.The evaluation must be an integral part of the overall plan in order for it to have any credibility.

Looking forward into the course I am anxious to discover more specific information on gathering hard and soft data in the preparation of a comprehensive evaluation.