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Evaluations with a difference

Posted on: March 17, 2016

This is the third and final part of my reflection on post-session evaluations. [part 1] [part 2]

Very few people I meet question the assumptions behind the ubiquitous “smiley sheet” at the end of a professional development session.

One excuse for this is that session evaluations have “always been done this way”. My response to that is that doctors used to advertise cigarettes and we used to include lead in paint. Now we know better.

We should know better. One way to get there is to question the assumptions of Level 1 evaluation forms:

  • You are objective (you are not)
  • The evaluation format is objective (it is not, e.g., gender-biased)
  • Your impressions indicate what you have learnt (short of mind-reading, only externalisation by performance does)
  • Your feelings and impressions are somehow correlated to performance, impact, and return on investment (they are not)

In short, smiley sheets are not indicators or measures of learning. At best, they collect information from participants whether they liked a session or facilitator or both. None of this liking guarantees learning.

I outline my approach to post-session evaluations I conducted recently and contrast it with the conventional method.

Conventional method

My method

Fixed questions, numerical ratings

Open questions and free form answers

Mandatory questions

Optional questions and activities

Focuses on teaching and impression

Focus on learning and reflection

Reliance on single source and instance

Triangulation of exit tickets, backchannels, informal meetings, and other follow-ups

Emphasises scores

Emphasises narrative

My method is designed in part to complement and compensate for the shortcomings of the conventional method. It gives participants a choice of whether to answer and how to answer. I find out what participants take away with them after critical reflection and what they intend to do with what they learnt. My method also does not rely on a single source of information and provides a narrative that numbers alone cannot provide.

It can also replace a conservative, number-oriented method of evaluation if depth and actual indicators of initial learning (or learner intent) are valued over perception and feelings. The narrative is particular important because typical responses when looking at numbers include: What does this mean? What do we need to do now? The interpretations provide answers to this information gaps, and while designed to persuade, still leave the decision-making to organisers.

Such evaluations take more effort. I collect data before, during, and after my sessions. I meet, listen, and converse with people who are both critical and receptive. I distill all these into a qualitatively designed report.

I know that anything worth doing takes hard and smart work. Simply recycling old forms and practices is lazy and provides little value if any.

1 Response to "Evaluations with a difference"

Munira malik: RT @ashley: Evaluations with a difference… via


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