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THE WISCONSIN IDEA IN ACTION: Graduate Students as Scholar-Evaluators in the Field by Gwendolyn Baxley and Larry D. Brown Jr.

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 EducationUniversity 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 aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.



1 thought on “THE WISCONSIN IDEA IN ACTION: Graduate Students as Scholar-Evaluators in the Field by Gwendolyn Baxley and Larry D. Brown Jr.”

  1. Luke Nakonechny

    I came across this post and found some parallels in my experience in graduate studies and incorporating my understandings of program evaluation into my professional practice as a teacher. To me, incorporating evaluation practices, even on a small scale help reach my goals of providing the best educational experiences possible for students. It holds me and my colleagues equally accountable to the programs we are involved and no where is this more important than in education.

    The lessons of collaboration and reflection are both things that contribute to someone growing as a teacher. Collaboration brings all members of a team under the same umbrella to guide stakeholders towards achieving the goals of a program while reflection is necessary for understanding what stakeholders and practitioners are going through. Lessons like these force professionals (in any field) to realize how valuable time together is when building programs for success before, during, and after the process.

    I am someone who is still very much developing my understandings of optimal program evaluation, but incorporating components of evaluation in targeted and specific ways help me as a teacher to have a greater impact on students in my classroom. Is there anything else that comes to mind if you were to consider how beginning (or part-time) evaluators can incorporate evaluative strategies into practice?

    Thank you for your time and I do appreciate your lessons and insight into program evaluation!

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