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Katye Perry on Teaching Ethics in Evaluation through Case Examples

I am Katye Perry, an Associate Professor at Oklahoma State University in Research, Evaluation, Measurement and Statistics (REMS). I have taught a graduate level evaluation class for one year shy of twenty years. My students represent multiple disciplines within the College of Education as well as from disciplines across the university. Like most instructors of the only or an introductory class in evaluation, and with this composition, I have sought to find the right balance between theory and practice while at the same time trying not to oversimplify the reality of the practice.

Hot Tip: In one part of my lessons, I merge ethics, the Joint Program Evaluation Standards and AEA’s Guiding Principles through ethical dilemmas. Specifically, for my class, these dilemmas are drawn from Newman, D. & Brown, R. (1996) Applied ethics in program evaluation. Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA (This text is required of my students). However, by no means, is this the only source for obtaining examples of ethical dilemmas encountered by practicing evaluators. See the Ethical Challenges section of the American Evaluation Journal and/or Michael Morris (2008) Evaluation ethics for best practice: Cases and commentaries. Guilford Press: New York, just to name of few resources. Now, how do I guide my students through this experience?

  1. I make sure my students have already reviewed the Joint Standards for Program Evaluation and AEA’s Guiding Principles; then they are placed in groups of 3-4 students;
  2. They are introduced to Newman and Brown’s text which presents for some and reviews for others, definitions, theories, principles, etc. that can be used to inform decisions when confronted with an ethical dilemma. A unique feature in this text is its vignettes, framework and flowchart developed by the authors to guide decision-making; now the fun part;
  3. Each group is assigned a vignette and asked how they would resolve the problem.

Almost without fail, the students disregard the standards, principles, theories, framework, etc., and solve the problem based on their own unique experiences. This is turn provides an opportunity for me to use the standards to conduct, where possible, a metaevaluation of the scenario in the vignettes and then look to the framework for possible solutions to the dilemma. We really get into some great discussions regarding best solutions. Next time, I will start with step 3, discuss and then move to steps 1 and 2 and see how the solutions change.

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 aea365@eval.org.

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