Teaching Tips Week: Nick Fuhrman on Using Graduate Students as Evaluation Consultants
I’m Nick Fuhrman, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia and the evaluation specialist for Georgia Cooperative Extension. Teaching is my passion—I love it! From working with our talented Extension professionals in the field to mentoring undergraduate and graduate students on campus, I can’t see myself ever doing anything else. I teach students on campus and over the Internet in our distance-delivered Master’s program and often find myself having to get creative with assignments and learning experiences. This is the story of one learning experience I have found to be particularly beneficial and even fun for my students. “Evaluation” and “fun” in the same sentence—yes!
When you have to teach something, you have to know it. As an evaluation specialist (and I think I’m preaching to the choir here) I often get asked to assist organizations and programs with collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data.
Lesson Learned: When folks come to me for such help, I’m reminded of my Ph.D. mentor, Dr. Howard Ladewig, and can still hear him saying, “make sure you can teach what you know to someone who doesn’t have a clue what you’re talking about.” When we translate our evaluation jargon into everyday street lingo to assist our clients it is an indicator of our confidence and competence in evaluation.
Lesson Learned: Over the past three summers, 57 Master’s level graduate students have served as evaluation consultants during the last four weeks of our eleven week long summer semester and they have made a difference. During the weeks prior to their consulting, students were trained in participatory evaluation principles, including continuous stakeholder involvement while planning an evaluation, gathering, analyzing, and interpreting data, and sharing evaluation findings with stakeholders using practical and “fun” methods. Working in teams of three (based on programming interests and location of residence), students were assigned a local Extension program or organization to assist. These programs and organizations had previously contacted me and were excited to allow trained graduate students to provide evaluation leadership. Students were required to keep a consultant’s accountability journal, provide their clients/stakeholders with self-developed helpful evaluation handouts (based on needs), create an evaluation plan for their program/organization, and present their recommendations to clients in an evening clientele reception on campus. Students indicated that the project enhanced their program evaluation competency because they were required to teach others what they knew. Three of the students have even gone on to pursue careers or doctorate degrees focusing in evaluation. Using graduate students as evaluation consultants is an experience I hope to continue for the rest of my career.
Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Want to learn more teaching tips from Nick and colleagues? Attend session 116, A Method to Our Madness: Program Evaluation Teaching Techniques, on Wednesday, November 2 at AEA’s Annual Conference.