Addressing tensions that exist when making objective evaluative judgements in small learning and teaching projects in higher education

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Conference Proceeding
EDULEARN17 Proceedings, 2017, pp. 467 - 477
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This study investigates the practice of evaluation in small learning and teaching projects in higher education, an area of research that is under reported in the literature (Huber & Harvey, 2013). A pragmatic, mixed methods approach is taken, using reflection on what works and what does not work in evaluation practice. Data includes project documentation, interviews and focus groups with university staff leading small learning and teaching projects. Findings demonstrate that complex interactions between various evaluation sub-systems exist. The contextual factors that influence evaluation praxis (the alignment between practice and theory) are described along with a number of barriers to successful evaluation practice. These barriers can create tensions and conflicts for evaluators (Bergman, 2010). This study provides empirical evidence to support a conceptual model for the interaction between three of these tensions: expectations of the stakeholders; resources available to support the evaluation; and competencies (knowledge and skills) of the evaluator (Bergman, 2010). Drawing on the evidence from this study, together with the literature, each component part of Bergman’s model is discussed in detail and corroborated. A key finding of this study is how evaluation is conceptualised. Three issues emerge: the conflation of the terms evaluation and research; difference in conceptualisation between different roles within a project; and evaluation purpose, in this case as an accountability exercise vs. a learning process. The impact of these misconceptions will also be discussed by introducing conceptualisation as a new component part of the Bergman Model. Strategies for addressing the tensions that have been identified by this research study are presented and form a step towards a quality evaluation agenda in the learning and teaching project space.
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