Evaluation: a reflection in the moment #pcthe

It is the season of evaluations in universities and other institutions of the post-compulsory and lifelong learning sector.Our evaluation strategy has necessarily been informed in the literature of evaluation (Hounsell 2009) and Brookfield’s (1995) “spectacles”:

  • (auto) biography
  • learners
  • colleagues
  • the literature, theory

Dyke (2006) observes we need to do more of this. Evaluation informed by interdisciplinary social science in the critical theoretical tradition. Evaluation has to address:

  • Directions
  • Schedules
  • Impacts


  • Opportunistic

By all means have a plan, but every moment is an opportunity for reflection. Reflect in practice on the things that can be managed or which are placed in our way to be dealt with: teaching space, time, curriculum. It is best to do so mindfully.

Every programme event or intervention is an opportunity for evaluation.

  • Purposive

Evaluation is, itself, directed towards aims, These may or may not be aligned with the aims of whatever the subject of the evaluation is. Evaluators have perspectives. They should reflect on these and be committed to openness and transparency about them. Openness, itself needs to be bounded, but the boundaries want to be quite permeable (1000 mile question). Boundaries may be necessary for creative turbulence layers. Bringing together diverse peoples to learn from one-another. How does the enterprise address equality and diversity issues? Progress, development and hierarchy may be necessary to create movement. Communities may embrace, among others: discipline, profession, locale, domestic, global. Professional practitioners in graduate occupations and/or disciplines must be current with tools and practices, methods and methodologies, grounded in knowledge, history, language, epistemology.

  • Objective oriented

Structure is provided by course intended learning outcomes or objectives. The lectures, workshops, activities and assessment strive for alignment as well as dynamic instability and points of harmony.


  • semi-systematic and structured

Alongside an opportunistic outlook, having tools to hand helps. Start with course aims and outcomes. Use a questionnaire several times over; even if not perfect, comparisons are where the discoveries are made.

  • continuous

Ongoing, no end: hasta la lucha continua. But, there may be many review points, annual planning cycles: major and minor, etc

  • epicyclic

Course cycles, professional cycles, conference cycles, university bureaucratic cycles all run to different periods. Activity is mixed and multi-modal. Evaluation needs to be multi-purposed and reusable.


  • emergent

Because of all the above, impacts are going to be emergent as well as planned. An evaluator would expect to see new structures emerge and to see mechanisms in place to encourage this: enquiry-based learning, action learning, learner-led curricula, user-centred design.

  • progressive

Shares in the myth of modernism and the enlightenment, that there is progress and that this is modelled and trained through a ranked education system with levels of attainment, informed by human development psychology. Facilitates learner progression as defined in the plan.

  • developmental

Do differently and better, not necessarily more (Daly 2008). Fail. Fail again, better (Beckett cited in Žižek 2009).

Brookfield, Stephen D. 1995. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publlishers.
Dyke, Martin. 2006. “The role of the ‘Other’ in reflection, knowledge formation and action in a late modernity.” International Journal of Lifelong Education 25 (2): 105-123.
Hounsell, Dai. 2009. Evaluating courses and teaching. In A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice, ed. Heather Fry, Steve Kettridge, and Stephanie Marshall, 198-211. 3rd ed. Routledge.
Daly, Herman. 2008. Towards a steady-state economy. In The oil drum, April 24. http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3941.
Žižek, Slavoj. 2009. In defense of lost causes. 2nd ed. London and New York: Verso.