Learning Evaluation through Apprenticeships [Evaluation musings by Cindy Tananis]


Cindy Tananis, Director, Collaborative for Evaluation and Assessment Capacity at the University of Pittsburgh

Greetings! I’m Cindy Tananis. The folks at the University of Pittsburgh’s Collaborative for Evaluation and Assessment Capacity (CEAC) have been thinking about blogging for some time now — and we’ve decided that if EVERYONE starts their OWN blog, then its hard to talk ACROSS blogs, so — we’ve decided to add some of our thinking here with Ann’s blog!

First. Let me do something that we think is really important in evaluation: CONTEXTUALIZE!  Before you can really understand findings from evaluation, you have to understand context.  Here’s ours!  We are a university based (University of Pittsburgh), evaluation group (of faculty and doctoral students in the School of Education) that works with folks who are trying to make a difference in the world of learning for children and adults.  Our work spans lots of ranges — small to large scale, quant to qual focus, formal to informal settings, school based to community based — and more.  I am the founder and Director of CEAC and also am an Associate Professor in Administrative and Policy Studies at Pitt, specializing in evaluation and educational leadership studies.  All of our evaluators are doc students studying some aspect of education, though that too represents a broad range of interests.

Now — on to the more typical bloglike entry!

It probably makes sense, as an introduction to think a bit about LEARNING EVALUATION.  We do that essentially through APPRENTICESHIP.  Doc students come to CEAC to fund their doctoral studies — and those studies may be in K-12 or Higher Ed leadership or in Social and Comparative Analysis of Ed — or Research Methods — or other specialized areas.  We do offer some evaluation and methods courses, but we don’t currently offer an evaluation area of study or degree option.  So, our folks come to us with very little evaluation expertise or experience — a perfect place for a ground up apprenticeship model.  Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way over the last six years that CEAC has been in operation:

  1. Learning by doing, works.  Folks can learn the basic skills as well as more nuanced practice of evaluation through practical work.  Reading and studying some of the seminal texts and theorists in the field adds to that, especially for a more conceptual and theoretical grounding for the work.
  2. People learn better by working together.  We do ALL of work as teams — this allows someone who even has a week more experience with an aspect of a project to become the “teacher” as others are students — with a fluid movement across roles that may flip flop even numerous times through a day!  We really do connect with the ideas of a community of practice from the literature.
  3. Learning is job one for everyone.  The fact that we are situated in a university, and better yet, a school of education, helps to make this point, but I think it resonates across all evaluation.  Evaluation helps people learn what they need to know to make sense of phenomena — typically to make decisions related to worth and value (though not always).  So, focusing on learning keeps us all good evaluation learners — that makes us good evaluators, and we hope, for some of us, better evaluation thinkers/theorists.
  4. Essentially, we are all apprentices in a field that is diverse and fluid.   One of the characteristics that first had me fall in love with the field is the diversity of experience, focus, theory, and practical application represented in evaluation.  As Scriven instructs us, evaluation is a trans-discipline — it informs and influences many other disciplines.  That provides us with a great opportunity to learn across fields, apply our work in new settings, work with partners from other disciplines —- its an invitation to  constantly challenge our knowledge and reform it anew.

CEAC_logoWant to learn more? Stop by and visit our website to learn more about CEAC:  www.ceac.pitt.edu