What’s up! We are Gwendolyn Baxley and Larry D. Brown Jr., doctoral students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and evaluators as part of the Wisconsin Evaluation Collaborative Clinic. The Clinic responds to the small-scale evaluation needs by matching trained graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with schools and education-focused community organizations in Dane County.
As graduate students, there are many benefits to engaging as professional evaluators, including obtaining applied and practical “research” experience in the field. The Clinic, and evaluation experience in general, provides us with an opportunity to connect our methodological and content expertise as trained academic scholars to serve and meet the evaluation needs of local schools and community organizations. Beyond solely publishing on or about organizations, we partner with them to provide real-time and annual feedback and technical assistance to better understand, improve, or transform their programs.
While conducting evaluations in the Clinic, we have learned two major lessons:
Lesson Learned: Teamwork and collaboration is key.
You cannot do this work alone. It is not only important to leverage the perspective and expertise of colleagues, but also imperative to work in partnership with stakeholders in the programs we are evaluating. These include working in partnerships with youth, parents, program staff, and community members. With their local knowledge and expertise, youth, parents, program staff, and community members offer distinct sources of expertise and knowledge that enhance evaluation design, implementation, and use.
Lesson Learned: Critical reflection is integral to evaluation.
It is important to constantly reflect on one’s identity (culture, race, class, gender, educational level, sexual orientation, and social status, etc) and the sociopolitical contexts in which we do our work. Aspects of society and our own background may shape the evaluation design and process, in both intended and unintended ways. Critical Reflexivity, particularly regarding issues of race, racism and marginality, is important in helping evaluators understand the ways in which sociopolitical contexts and their own identities shape how they interact with evaluation “participants”, view and interpret data, as well as frame and report evaluation findings.
As scholar-evaluators, graduate student evaluators gain valuable skills and experience that are rarely offered in a traditional academic program. The Clinic provides comprehensive training that prepares students for immediate hands-on opportunities in the field to apply obtained academic knowledge through practical experiences. Exposure to evaluation gives students insight into potential non-tenure track career options. Moreover, graduate student evaluators build networks, connect with and learn from the community in meaningful ways, and can engage in a culturally responsive manner.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating The Wisconsin Idea in Action Week coordinated by the LEAD Center. The LEAD (Learning through Evaluation, Adaptation, and Dissemination) Center is housed within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison and advances the quality of teaching and learning by evaluating the effectiveness and impact of educational innovations, policies, and practices within higher education. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from student and adult evaluators living in and practicing evaluation from the state of WI. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.