I am Jill Hendrickson Lohmeier, an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Previously I was the Evaluation Director for the School Program Evaluation and Research group at the University of Kansas. I teach an online graduate level program evaluation course every summer, so I will be providing tips about using online discussions for teaching.
Rad Resource: One benefit of teaching online is the amazing diversity among the students. I have had students from multiple countries and as many as ten different states in one class. The students themselves are a rich resource for providing insight into different communities, organizations, and fields of work.
Hot Tip: I begin the course by asking the students to describe where they are, what they see and hear as they answer the question. This allows the whole class to understand how different and also how similar they all are.
Hot Tip: The primary course project is a service learning project in which students work with an organization to conduct an assessment of evaluation needs and write an evaluation plan for the organization. Although I have to approve the choice, I encourage them to work with all different kinds of organizations.
Hot Tip: Each week students are assigned to lead online discussions. Their questions must tie in the week’s readings with the projects. Thus, the questions end up requiring students not only to demonstrate knowledge of the material, but also how it is applicable to their own projects. The discussions then allow the students to see how different answers are often needed for different situations. For example, a question like, “Explain which evaluation model you intend to use to guide your evaluation plan. Why is that the best model for your situation?” allows students to see that although one choice may be clearly best in their situation, in many others, the choice is not so obvious and may require a completely opposite approach. Students then really do discuss responses others provide.
Lesson Learned: By allowing the students to take ownership of the discussions each week, I find that they use other resources (sometimes recommend by me) to provide more in-depth responses to other students. The students become extremely engaged in the discussions and often tell me that they really appreciate the opportunity to learn so much about the process of working with so many different projects in detail.
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. Want to learn more teaching tips from Nick and colleagues? Attend session 116, A Method to Our Madness: Program Evaluation Teaching Techniques, on Wednesday, November 2 at AEA’s Annual Conference.