Innovative #Eval Week: Jean King and Laura Pejsa on Evaluating the Evaluators’ Conference: The Ultimate Student Challenge

Greetings from Jean King and Laura Pejsa from the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute (MESI) at the University of Minnesota. This week we will be introducing you to a crop of graduate student evaluators who (we think) made quite a splash at the AEA conference last month.  If you attended, you may have seen one or more of them filming video interviews, conducting on-the-spot i-Pad surveys, tweeting “Aha” moments, or helping participants identify favorite sessions on the giant TIG visualization. If you were not with us at the conference this year, today’s post will give you some background on this project.

It all started with the local arrangements committee for the AEA conference; the committee wanted to add some sparks of evaluation throughout the week and document experiences not captured on the standard after-conference survey. We created a one-credit, special course at the University of Minnesota titled Creative methods for training and event evaluation, and invited students to join us for a grand experiment. The course and the conference activities would be developed based on the interests and ideas of the students in it.

At our first class meeting, we introduced the students to the goals and history of the conference, provided a place (and food) to come together, and gave them the following loose guidelines:

  • to both pilot and model creative ways of documenting conference experiences;
  • to provide some real-time feedback;
  • to make the evaluation process fun/engaging for conference participants;
  • to explore the potential of emerging technologies;
  • to provide meaningful, usable data to AEA;
  • and to make sure they still had time to attend and enjoy the conference themselves.

Hot Tips

  • You don’t have to look much further than your own back yard for meaningful evaluation experiences for students. Instead of simulating or creating projects, check out the events that may already be happening where a little extra evaluation will go a long way.
  • When it comes to creative methods and technology, students can expand our thinking. Give them an opportunity with relatively low stakes, and see the connections they make between the ways they have learned to use things like social media and the evaluation problem.

This week we will be presenting you with more hot tips, cool tricks, rad resources, and lessons learned from this intrepid group of conference evaluators. Days 2-5 of this week will be written by our four student teams: Survey, Video, Network Visualization, and Twitter. We will wrap up the week with a post summarizing what we learned as instructors that may help others in designing meaningful, real-world evaluation experiences for novice evaluators.

We’re learning all this week from the University of Minnesota Innovative Evaluation Team from Evaluation 2012. 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. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluator.

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