All through the site visit to Africa, one of the themes that keeps surfacing is the power of formative feedback and evaluation. For example, it was one of the topics of conversation that came up during our meeting with Dr. Klaus Droppelmann at the Agricultural Consultative Forum on Monday.
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As the use of formative evaluation is one of the main philosophies that I follow in my evaluations, it is important to describe just what that means.
At its most basic level, formative evaluation is the use of data during the process as a means to improve the process. Oftentimes, the success of a project is evaluated by its outcomes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, it is actually an incomplete measure of the success of a project. By being more attuned to the process itself, one is much more likely to assure success in the outcomes.
Let me use teamwork as an example. Teachers incorporate teamwork in their classrooms for various reasons and in many ways. They will arrange their students into groups of three or four, give them their assignment (for example, research a topic, write a paper, and create a presentation), and then leave them to their task. Once the presentation is done, the teacher uses that product as a proxy measure for how the students worked in their teams. However, if one were to read the work of Belbin (or any of a number of other specialists in teamwork) it would be understood that the process of groupwork is as important as the outcome - if not more important. There are many predictable stages of groupwork, each of which holds risks and challenges that can derail the process. By not paying attention to the process, the teacher runs the risk of having a group fail unnecessarily. By formatively evaluating the process as well as the product the teacher can see the risks as they develop, intervene where necessary, and it becomes much more likely that the students will learn the content and the teamworking skills.
We are attempting to follow a similar process in our project, which has incorporated frequent reflections on sessions, and incorporations of the lessons that have been learned into future sessions. One of the key benefits to this process is that the reflection process is usually done reflexively (at least in our group it has been). There doesn't need to be a huge amount of structure to the evaluation, however, the incorporation of the learned lessons is of the utmost importance. The trick is to do so in a meaningful way while still being responsive to the needs of the project. By following a philosophy of formative evaluation we have been able to be a bit more nimble in changing our procedures as the circumstances warrant.