SW TIG Week: Community-Based Learning as the Signature Pedagogy for Teaching Social Work Evaluation by Brandon W. Youker

Some thoughts on teaching evaluation to social work students… I’m Brandon W. Youker, social worker, evaluator, and professor at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After a dozen plus years in higher ed., I’ve developed a commitment to community-based learning (CBL) as my primary pedagogy for teaching future social workers about program evaluation. I’ve had students from numerous program evaluation courses divided into smaller evaluation teams and asked them to design, conduct, and report on evaluations for local non-profit organizations and programs.

The benefits to students include learning by doing or experiential learning and honing their tools for thought as evaluation is one of the highest order thinking skills according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Students also report enjoying the realism of the course and evaluation projects as they work in real environments, with real programs that make real impact on real people. Lastly, students not only learn about evaluation but they also learn through serving some of the community’s most vulnerable and disenfranchised populations.

The organizations and programs benefit by receiving high quality, independent, pro bono evaluation and evaluation consulting. The evaluation projects have led to enhancing organizations’ evaluation capacity through thinking more deeply and intentionally about evaluation and program and consumer outcomes, and they receive the student-created data collection instruments that they can use or adapt for use.

It’s important to collaborate with the organizations to develop multi-semester, multi-course evaluation strategies as well as for creating relevant lectures and meaningful assignments. In terms of scholarship, partnerships have led to presentations at academic conferences and journal publications. These evaluation projects allow me to serve my community, which consequently serves the university and the social work profession while building relationships with the local community.

Yes, there are obstacles to overcome. Nevertheless, the potential benefits clearly outweigh the effort for the students, community partners, and instructors. Besides, there are numerous CBL resources for course instructors.

I believe that evaluation is a social work tool for social justice. Thus, it is incumbent upon educators to encourage and support realistic and practical CBL experiences, which will ultimately lead to competent social workers who support sound evaluation and evidence-based practices and programs.

Hot Tips:

Most colleges and universities have CBL resources, guidelines, and policies to assist instructors (see the Association of American Colleges & Universities who lists CBL as one of ten high-impact educational practices [https://www.aacu.org/leap/hips]).

Rad Resources:

There is robust literature on CBL and service learning—the benefits and obstacles as well as suggestions for implementation; and there are a few articles discussing CBL with program evaluation courses, in specific. Newcomer (1985) provides a call to action for CBL pedagogy in program evaluation courses, while Oliver, Casiraghi, Henderson, Brooks, and Mulsow (2008) describe various evaluation pedagogies. Shannon, Kim, and Robinson (2012) discuss CBL for teaching evaluation and offer practical suggestions for doing so; and Campbell (2012) provides a guide for implementing CBL in social work courses.

Thanks for your interest and please contact me to discuss CBL further.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating SW TIG Week with our colleagues in the Social Work Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our SW TIG members. 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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “SW TIG Week: Community-Based Learning as the Signature Pedagogy for Teaching Social Work Evaluation by Brandon W. Youker”

  1. Justin Garrison

    My name is Justin Garrison, I am currently learning about program evaluation. I like how you listened to your students and found out they like the hands-on learning. That is currently what I am doing. This is hard but it makes the knowledge stick better compared to just reading. I enjoy your honesty about how difficult road lay ahead but collaborating may help. I think you gave a lot of good tips to help someone learning in this area.

  2. Hi Brandon, Great to hear about your work connecting students with community organizations! I direct the UNM Evaluation Lab, a similar effort at the University of New Mexico for our Master in Public Policy (MPP) program. The MPP is in its first year, the Lab is in its third year, and we are still working out the kinks and figuring out how to make it sustainable. I’m interested in learning more about the details of your program (the size of the teams, how long they work with organizations, how they are supervised, etc. etc.).

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