AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators



Kathleen D. Kelsey on Teaching Evaluation Using Film

Greetings colleagues. I’m Kathleen Kelsey, a professor of Agricultural Education, Communications and Leadership at Oklahoma State University. I teach a variety of graduate courses including Program Evaluation. My students come from the agricultural sector and will work as agricultural teachers, Cooperative Extension educators, and in agricultural sales and services. They most likely won’t become professional evaluators. This is the only evaluation course they will take, so I strive to teach the theory and logic of evaluation from an applied perspective. I use a variety of techniques to motivate my students and peak their interest in program evaluation such as using film to teach ethics and evaluative thinking.

Hot Tip: I use the film Capote (2005) staring Philip Seymour Hoffman to teach about AEA’s Guiding Principles as an example of how an author uses any means necessary to get his story, including violating nearly every ethical principle outlined in the Guiding Principles. How do I guide student through this exercise?

1. I ask the students to review the Guiding Principles for Evaluators specifically, C. Integrity/Honesty, D. Respect for People, and E. Responsibilities for General and Public Welfare.

2. After reviewing the Guiding Principles, we watch the film, Capote (2005) (ASIN: B000E33VWW).

3. Students discuss and write about the ethical dilemmas posed by Capote’s behavior in regard to:

a. Gaining access to the research site

b. Financing the research project

c. His relationships with his research subject, Perry and others

d. How his actions affected society at large (considering the contextual factors associated with his work, for example  the political and social climate and the implications of his actions)

e. His consideration of the risks, harms, and burdens that might befall those involved in the research

f. Maintaining a balance between the client’s needs and his needs

4. At the conclusion of the film, Capote notes that his life was “changed forever” as a result of writing the book, In Cold Blood. I ask students to hypothesize why they think his research project changed Capote’s life forever, stimulating critical thinking about the many implications of our work as evaluators, such as our use of power, our position in the research site, and balancing these roles with conducting high quality evaluation.

This exercise has made a lasting impression on my students and has been one of best uses of film in teaching evaluative concepts. I hope your students enjoy it as much as mine!

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to

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  • Tom Young · July 31, 2012 at 12:17 am

    Film is a very useful teacher. You can do and show a lot of different things, that people can’t see through other means. Intelligent post.


  • Stephen J. Gill · August 12, 2010 at 10:19 am


  • Susan Sloan · July 14, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Brilliant Kathleen! As a student of film, this is one of my favorite 365 posts to-date.


  • Stephen J. Gill · July 14, 2010 at 6:34 am

    Thanks for this terrific “hot tip”. I haven’t used the technique yet but it sounds like a great way to teach ethics. It’s an engaging movie and those are excellent questions. It seems to me that this “course” isn’t just for program evaluation students. It should be required of consulting groups, research organizations, philanthropic foundations and anyone else who is responsible for studying human behavior.


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