Nicole Lewis on Evaluation Apprenticeships – Real Life Evaluation Experience for Students and Evaluation Capacity Building for Community Groups

Greetings, I am Nicole Lewis, an Assistant Professor in the College of Education at the University of Kentucky. I teach program evaluation courses and serve as the evaluator for various grant-funded initiatives.

One of the challenges of teaching program evaluation courses is creating meaningful opportunities for students to apply what they learn in the classroom to real life evaluation contexts.

Hot Tip: I will describe the “Evaluation Apprentice,” a course assignment that I designed to provide students supervised experience in practicing evaluation.

The primary goals of the Evaluation Apprentice (EA) are two-fold:

1) to provide evaluation services to a program or organization that might not otherwise have them and

2) to provide evaluation students the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills gained in their introductory evaluation course to a real-life evaluation “client” and task.

EA begins when the client, who is selected by the instructor, gives a presentation about their program and his/her specific evaluation need(s). Past tasks have ranged from modifying existing data collection instruments, to providing feedback on strategies to increase participation levels in evaluations, to developing an evaluation design.

Following the client presentation there is a question and answer session where students ask questions about the evaluand and the project. Students are placed on teams and work on the assignment outside of class to develop a “product” that addresses the expressed need.

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor and the client as needed. Then, on a pre-determined date each team presents their product to the class, the client, and the instructor. A question and answer session follows and each team is given feedback from their peers, the client and the instructor. In addition to the oral presentation, each team is required to submit a written report.

Lessons Learned: The exercise is truly a win-win situation. The activity builds the evaluation capacity of the client, who learns a tremendous amount about evaluation. For example, the client learns some key evaluation terms, becomes familiar with some evaluation resources, and has first hand experience with aspects of evaluation. Likewise, students also benefit. Students must consider the various evaluation approaches and methods that they have studied and debate among themselves which are best for the particular project. In the past, each client has served a “vulnerable” population. Thus, students increase their awareness of the client’s organization and its activities and have the opportunity to think about and incorporate cultural competency into the evaluation. Additionally, students gain experience working with a client, but in a team environment and with the support of their experienced instructor. Finally, the instructor can assess students’ evaluation knowledge and skills from a practical perspective.

This contribution is from the aea365 Tip-a-Day Alerts, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to Want to learn more from Nicole? She will be presenting at the Evaluation 2011 Conference Poster Exhibition. Check out the program, and join us November 2-5 in Anaheim, California.

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