Effective, well-designed, and conducted program evaluation is the only real pathway to quality in program content, design, and delivery or in other words, quality in content, teaching and learning. It is the mechanism through which we aid our students in mastering concepts and skills, certify that they are ready to advance, and adjust our programs to ensure that we are meeting our desired outcomes as effectively and efficiently as possible.
When executed properly, program evaluation is a collection of assessment mechanisms – both informal and formal, both direct and indirect – that provide holistic understandings of how our programs are performing. Properly administered, these evaluations look at every aspect of our programs – the content, the learners’ progress and the learning experience – helping us to understand the intended and unintended consequences of our instruction and make necessary improvements.
There are a wide variety of evaluative models available. Each betrays a unique understanding of the learning experience. Grasping the theoretical underpinnings and evaluation models that have evolved from them aids program managers in choosing models most appropriate to their needs. Further, a general understanding of the field of program evaluation can equip educators with insights into the breadth of data they might consider in measuring the effectiveness of their offerings.
This discussion will explore the “why,” “what,” and “how” of program evaluation, overview theoretical constructs that have resulted in a variety of program-evaluation models, and explore some of the issues educators should consider in selecting and employing models to meet their needs.