We EvaluATE - Evaluation Design

Blog: Addressing Challenges in Evaluating ATE Projects Targeting Outcomes for Educators

Posted on November 21, 2017 by  in Blog ()

CEO, Hezel Associates

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Kirk Knestis—CEO of Hezel Associates and ex-career and technology educator and professional development provider—here to share some strategies addressing challenges unique to evaluating Advanced Technological Education (ATE) projects that target outcomes for teachers and college faculty.

In addition to funding projects that directly train future technicians, the National Science Foundation (NSF) ATE program funds initiatives to improve abilities of grade 7-12 teachers and college faculty—the expectation being that improving their practice will directly benefit technical education. ATE tracks focusing on professional development (PD), capacity building for faculty, and technological education teacher preparation all count implicitly on theories of action (typically illustrated by a logic model) that presume outcomes for educators will translate into outcomes for student technicians. This assumption can present challenges to evaluators trying to understand how such efforts are working. Reference this generic logic model for discussion purposes:

Setting aside project activities acting directly on students, any strategy aimed at educators (e.g., PD workshops, faculty mentoring, or preservice teacher training) must leave them fully equipped with dispositions, knowledge, and skills necessary to implement effective instruction with students. Educators must then turn those outcomes into actions to realize similar types of outcomes for their learners. Students’ action outcomes (e.g., entering, persisting in, and completing training programs) depend, in turn, on them having the dispositions, knowledge, and skills educators are charged with furthering. If educators fail to learn what they should, or do not activate those abilities, students are less likely to succeed. So what are the implications—challenges and possible solutions—of this for NSF ATE evaluations?

  • EDUCATOR OUTCOMES ARE OFTEN NOT WELL EXPLICATED. Work with program designers to force them to define the new dispositions, understandings, and abilities that technical educators require to be effective. Facilitate discussion about all three outcome categories to lessen the chance of missing something. Press until outcomes are defined in terms of persistent changes educators will take away from project activities, not what they will do during them.
  • EDUCATORS ARE DIFFICULT TO TEST. To truly understand if an ATE project is making a difference in instruction, it is necessary to assess if precursor outcomes for them are realized. Dispositions (attitudes) are easy to assess with self-report questionnaires, but measuring real knowledge and skills requires proper assessments—ideally, performance assessments. Work with project staff to “bake” assessments into project strategies, to be more authentic and less intrusive. Strive for more than self-report measures of increased abilities.
  • INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICES ARE DIFFICULT AND EXPENSIVE TO ASSESS. The only way to truly evaluate instruction is to see it, assessing pedagogy, content, and quality with rubrics or checklists. Consider replacing expensive on-site visits with the collection of digital videos or real-time, web-based telepresence.

With clear definitions of outcomes and collaboration with ATE project designers, evaluators can assess whether technician training educators are gaining the necessary dispositions, knowledge, and skills, and if they are implementing those practices with students. Assessing students is the next challenge, but until we can determine if educator outcomes are being achieved, we cannot honestly say that educator-improvement efforts made any difference.

Blog: Partnering with Clients to Avoid Drive-by Evaluation

Posted on November 14, 2017 by , in Blog ()
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 John Cosgrove

Senior Partner, Cosgrove & Associates

 Maggie Cosgrove

Senior Partner, Cosgrove & Associates

If a prospective client says, “We need an evaluation, and we will send you the dataset for evaluation,” our advice is that this type of “drive-by evaluation” may not be in their best interest.

As calls for program accountability and data-driven decision making increase, so does demand for evaluation. Given this context, evaluation services are being offered in a variety of modes. Before choosing an evaluator, we recommend the client pause to consider what they would like to learn about their efforts and how evaluation can add value to such learning. This perspective requires one to move beyond data analysis and reporting of required performance measures to examining what is occurring inside the program.

By engaging our clients in conversations related to what they would like to learn, we are able to begin a collaborative and discovery-oriented evaluation. Our goal is to partner with our clients to identify and understand strengths, challenges, and emerging opportunities related to program/project implementation and outcomes. This process will help clients not only understand which strategies worked, but why they worked and lays the foundation for sustainability and scaling.

These initial conversations can be a bit of a dance, as clients often focus on funder-required accountability and performance measures. This is when it is critically important to elucidate the differences between evaluation and auditing or inspecting. Ann-Murray Brown examines this question and provides guidance as to why evaluation is more than just keeping score in Evaluation, Inspection, Audit: Is There a Difference? As we often remind clients, “we are not the evaluation police.”

During our work with clients to clarify logic models, we encourage them to think of their logic model in terms of storytelling. We pose commonsense questions such as: When you implement a certain strategy, what changes to you expect to occur? Why do you think those changes will take place? What do you need to learn to support current and future strategy development?

Once our client has clearly outlined their “story,” we move quickly to connect data collection to client-identified questions and, as soon as possible, we engage stakeholders in interpreting and using their data. We incorporate Veena Pankaj and Ann Emery’s (2016) data placemat process to engage clients in data interpretation.  By working with clients to fully understand their key project questions, focus on what they want to learn, and engage in meaningful data interpretation, we steer clear of the potholes associated with drive-by evaluations.

Pankaj, V. & Emery, A. (2016). Data placemats: A facilitative technique designed to enhance stakeholder understanding of data. In R. S. Fierro, A. Schwartz, & D. H. Smart (Eds.), Evaluation and Facilitation. New Directions for Evaluation, 149, 81-93.

Blog: Integrating Perspectives for a Quality Evaluation Design

Posted on August 2, 2017 by , in Blog ()
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John Dorris

Director of Evaluation and Assessment, NC State Industry Expansion Solutions

Dominick Stephenson

Assistant Director of Research Development and Evaluation, NC State Industry Expansion Solutions

Designing a rigorous and informative evaluation depends on communication with program staff to understand planned activities and how those activities relate to the program sponsor’s objectives and the evaluation questions that reflect those objectives (see white paper related to communication). At NC State Industry Expansion Solutions, we have worked long enough on evaluation projects to know that such communication is not always easy because program staff and the program sponsor often look at the program from two different perspectives: The program staff focus on work plan activities (WPAs), while the program sponsor may be more focused on the evaluation questions (EQs). So, to help facilitate communication at the beginning of the evaluation project and assist in the design and implementation, we developed a simple matrix technique to link the WPAs and the EQs (see below).

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For each of the WPAs, we link one or more EQs and indicate what types of data collection events will take place during the evaluation. During project planning and management, the crosswalk of WPAs and EQs will be used to plan out qualitative and quantitative data collection events.

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The above framework may be more helpful with the formative assessment (process questions and activities). However, it can also enrich the knowledge gained by the participant outcomes analysis in the summative evaluation in the following ways:

Understanding how the program has been implemented will help determine fidelity to the program as planned, which will help determine the degree to which participant outcomes can be attributed to the program design.
Details on program implementation that are gathered during the formative assessment, when combined with evaluation of participant outcomes, can suggest hypotheses regarding factors that would lead to program success (positive participant outcomes) if the program is continued or replicated.
Details regarding the data collection process that are gathered during the formative assessment will help assess the quality and limitations of the participant outcome data, and the reliability of any conclusions based on that data.

So, for us this matrix approach is a quality-check on our evaluation design that also helps during implementation. Maybe you will find it helpful, too.

Blog: Logic Models for Curriculum Evaluation

Posted on June 7, 2017 by , in Blog ()
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Rachel Tripathy Linlin Li
Research Associate, WestEd Senior Research Associate, WestEd

At the STEM Program at WestEd, we are in the third year of an evaluation of an innovative, hands-on STEM curriculum. Learning by Making is a two-year high school STEM course that integrates computer programming and engineering design practices with topics in earth/environmental science and biology. Experts in the areas of physics, biology, environmental science, and computer engineering at Sonoma State University (SSU) developed the curriculum by integrating computer software with custom-designed experiment set-ups and electronics to create inquiry-based lessons. Throughout this project-based course, students apply mathematics, computational thinking, and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Scientific and Engineering Design Practices to ask questions about the world around them, and seek the answers. Learning by Making is currently being implemented in rural California schools, with a specific effort being made to enroll girls and students from minority backgrounds, who are currently underrepresented in STEM fields. You can listen to students and teachers discussing the Learning by Making curriculum here.

Using a Logic Model to Drive Evaluation Design

We derived our evaluation design from the project’s logic model. A logic model is a structured description of how a specific program achieves an intended learning outcome. The purpose of the logic model is to precisely describe the mechanisms behind the program’s effects. Our approach to the Learning by Making logic model is a variant on the five-column logic format that describes the inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and impacts of a program (W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 2014).

Learning by Making Logic Model

Click image to view enlarge

Logic models are read as a series of conditionals. If the inputs exist, then the activities can occur. If the activities do occur, then the outputs should occur, and so on. Our evaluation of the Learning by Making curriculum centers on the connections indicated by the orange arrows connecting outputs to outcomes in the logic model above. These connections break down into two primary areas for evaluation: 1) teacher professional development, and 2) classroom implementation of Learning by Making. The questions that correlate with the orange arrows above can be summarized as:

  • Are the professional development (PD) opportunities and resources for the teachers increasing teacher competence in delivering a computational thinking-based STEM curriculum? Does Learning by Making PD increase teachers’ use of computational thinking and project-based instruction in the classroom?
  • Does the classroom implementation of Learning by Making increase teachers’ use of computational thinking and project-based instruction in the classroom? Does classroom implementation promote computational thinking and project-based learning? Do students show an increased interest in STEM subjects?

Without effective teacher PD or classroom implementation, the logic model “breaks,” making it unlikely that the desired outcomes will be observed. To answer our questions about outcomes related to teacher PD, we used comprehensive teacher surveys, observations, bi-monthly teacher logs, and focus groups. To answer our questions about outcomes related to classroom implementation, we used student surveys and assessments, classroom observations, teacher interviews, and student focus groups. SSU used our findings to revise both the teacher PD resources and the curriculum itself to better situate these two components to produce the outcomes intended. By deriving our evaluation design from a clear and targeted logic model, we succeeded in providing actionable feedback to SSU aimed at keeping Learning by Making on track to achieve its goals.

Blog: Evaluating New Technology

Posted on May 23, 2017 by  in Blog ()

Professor and Senior Associate Dean, Rochester Institute of Technology

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As a STEM practitioner and evaluator, I have had many opportunities to assess new and existing courses, workshops, and programs. But there are often requests that still challenge me, especially evaluating new technology. The problem lies in clarifying the role of new technology, and focusing the evaluation on the proper questions.

Well, ok, you ask, “what are the roles I need to focus on?” In a nutshell, new technologies rear their heads in two ways:

(1) As content to be learned in the instructional program and,

(2) As a delivery mechanism for the instruction.

These are often at odds with each other, and sometimes overlap in unusual ways. For example, a course on “getting along at work” could be delivered via an iPad. A client could suggest that we should “evaluate the iPads, too.” In this context, an evaluation of the iPad should be limited to its contribution to achieving the program outcomes. Among other questions, did it function in a way that students enjoyed (or didn’t hate) and in a way that contributed to (or didn’t interfere with) learning. In a self-paced program, the iPad might be the primary vehicle for content delivery. However, using FaceTime or Skype via an iPad only requires the system to be a communication device – it will provide little more than a replacement of other technologies. In both cases, evaluation questions would center on the impact of the iPad on the learning process. Note that this is no more of a “critical” question than “did the students enjoy (or not hate) the snacks provided to them.” Interesting, but only as a supporting process.

Alternatively, a classroom program could be devoted to “learning the iPad.” In this case, the iPad has become “subject matter” that is to be learned through the process of human classroom interaction. In this case, how much they learned about the iPad is the whole point of the program! Ironically, a student could learn things about the iPad (through pictures, simulations, or through watching demonstrations) without actually using an iPad! But remember, it is not only an enabling contributor to the program – it can be the object of study.

So, the evaluation of new technology means that the evaluator must determine which aspect of new technology is being evaluated: technology as a process for delivering instruction, or as a subject of study. And a specific, somewhat circular case exists as well: Learning about an iPad through training delivered on an iPad. In this case, we would try to generate evaluation questions that allow us to address iPads both as delivery tools and iPads as skills to be learned.

While this may now seem straightforward as you read about it, remember that it is not straightforward to clients who are making an evaluation request. It might help to print this blog (or save a link) to help make clear these different, but sometimes interacting, uses of technology.

Blog: Designing a Purposeful Mixed Methods Evaluation

Posted on March 1, 2017 by  in Blog ()

Research Associate, Western Michigan University

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A mixed methods evaluation involves collecting, analyzing, and integrating data from both quantitative and qualitative sources. Sometimes, I find that while I plan evaluations with mixed methods, I do not think purposely about how or why I am choosing and ordering these methods. Intentionally planning a mixed methods design can help strengthen evaluation practices and the evaluative conclusions reached.

Here are three common mixed methods designs, each with its own purpose. Use these designs when you need to (1) see the whole picture, (2) dive deeper into your data, or (3) know what questions to ask.

1. When You Need to See the Whole Picture
First, the convergent parallel design allows evaluators to view the same aspect of a project from multiple perspectives, creating a more complete understanding. In this design, quantitative and qualitative data are collected simultaneously and then brought together in the analysis or interpretation stage.

For example, in an evaluation of a project whose goal is to attract underrepresented minorities into STEM careers, a convergent parallel design might include surveys of students asking Likert questions about their future career plans, as well as focus groups to ask questions about their career motivations and aspirations. These data collection activities would occur at the same time. The two sets of data would then come together to inform a final conclusion.

2. When You Need to Dive Deeper into Data

The explanatory sequential design uses qualitative data to further explore quantitative results. Quantitative data is collected and analyzed first. These results are then used to shape instruments and questions for the qualitative phase. Qualitative data is then collected and analyzed in a second phase.

For example, instead of conducting both a survey and focus groups at the same time, the survey would be conducted and results analyzed before the focus group protocol is created. The focus group questions can be designed to enrich understanding of the quantitative results. For example, while the quantitative data might be able to tell evaluators how many Hispanic students are interested in pursuing engineering, the qualitative could follow up on students’ motivations behind these responses.

3. When You Need to Know What to Ask

The exploratory sequential design allows an evaluator to investigate a situation more closely before building a measurement tool, giving guidance to what questions to ask, what variables to track, or what outcomes to measure. It begins with qualitative data collection and analysis to investigate unknown aspects of a project. These results are then used to inform quantitative data collection.

If an exploratory sequential design was used to evaluate our hypothetical project, focus groups would first be conducted to explore themes in students’ thinking about STEM careers. After analysis of this data, conclusions would be used to construct a quantitative instrument to measure the prevalence of these discovered themes in the larger student body. The focus group data could also be used to create more meaningful and direct survey questions or response sets.

Intentionally choosing a design that matches the purpose of your evaluation will help strengthen evaluative conclusions. Studying different designs can also generate ideas of different ways to approach different evaluations.

For further information on these designs and more about mixed methods in evaluation, check out these resources:

Creswell, J. W. (2013). What is Mixed Methods Research? (video)

Frechtling, J., and Sharp, L. (Eds.). (1997). User-Friendly Handbook for Mixed Method Evaluations. National Science Foundation.

Watkins, D., & Gioia, D. (2015). Mixed methods research. Pocket guides to social work research methods series. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Blog: Sustaining Career Pathways System Development Efforts

Posted on February 15, 2017 by , in Blog ()
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Debbie Mills
Director
National Career Pathways Network
Steven Klein
Director
RTI International

Career pathways are complex systems that leverage education, workforce development, and social service supports to help people obtain the skills they need to find employment and advance in their careers. Coordinating people, services, and resources across multiple state agencies and training providers can be a complicated, confusing, and at times, frustrating process. Changes to longstanding organizational norms can feel threatening, which may lead some to question or actively resist proposed reforms.

To ensure lasting success, sustainability and evaluation efforts should be integrated into career pathways system development and implementation efforts at the outset to ensure new programmatic connections are robust and positioned for longevity.

To support states and local communities in evaluating and planning for sustainability, RTI International created A Tool for Sustaining Career Pathways Efforts.

This innovative paper draws upon change management theory and lessons learned from a multi-year, federally-funded initiative to support five states in integrating career and technical education into their career pathways. Hyperlinks embedded within the paper allow readers to access and download state resources developed to help evaluate and sustain career pathways efforts. A Career Pathways Sustainability Checklist, included at the end of the report, can be used to assess your state’s or local community’s progress toward building a foundation for the long-term success of its career pathways system development efforts.

This paper identified three factors that contribute to sustainability in career pathways systems.

1. Craft a Compelling Vision and Building Support for Change

Lasting system transformation begins with lowering organizational resistance to change. This requires that stakeholders build consensus around a common vision and set of goals for the change process, establish new management structures to facilitate cross-agency communications, obtain endorsements from high-level leaders willing to champion the initiative, and publicize project work through appropriate communication channels.

2. Engage Partners and Stakeholders in the Change Process

Relationships play a critical role in maintaining systems over time. Sustaining change requires actively engaging a broad range of partners in an ongoing dialogue to share information about project work, progress, and outcomes, making course corrections when needed. Employer involvement also is essential to ensure that education and training services are aligned with labor market demand.

3. Adopt New Behaviors, Practices, and Processes

Once initial objectives are achieved, system designers will want to lock down new processes and connections to prevent systems from reverting to their original form. This can be accomplished by formalizing new partner roles and expectations, creating an infrastructure for ensuring ongoing communication, formulating accountability systems to track systemic outcomes, and securing new long-term resources and making more effective use of existing funding.

For additional information contact the authors:

Steve Klein; sklein@rti.org
Debbie Mills; fdmills1@comcast.net

Blog: Research Goes to School (RGS) Model

Posted on January 10, 2017 by  in Blog ()

Project Coordinator, Discovery Learning Research Center, Purdue University

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Data regarding pathways to STEM careers indicate that a critical transition point exists between high school and college.  Many students who are initially interested in STEM disciplines and could be successful in these fields either do not continue to higher education or choose non-STEM majors in college.  In part, these students do not see what role they can have in STEM careers.  For this reason, the STEM curriculum needs to reflect its applicability to today’s big challenges and connect students to the roles that these issues have for them on a personal level.

We proposed a project that infused high school STEM curricula with cross-cutting topics related to the hot research areas that scientists are working on today.  We began by focusing on sustainable energy concepts and then shifted to nanoscience and technology.

Pre-service and in-service teachers came to a large Midwestern research university for two weeks of intensive professional development in problem-based learning (PBL) pedagogy.  Along with PBL training, participants also connected with researchers in the grand challenge areas of sustainable energy (in project years 1-3) and nanoscience and technology (years 4-5).

We proposed a two-tiered approach:

1. Develop a model for education that consisted of two parts:

  • Initiate a professional development program that engaged pre-service and in-service high school teachers around research activities in grand challenge programs.
  • Support these teachers to transform their curricula and classroom practice by incorporating concepts of the grand challenge programs.

2. Establish a systemic approach for integrating research and education activities.

Results provided a framework for creating professional development with researchers and STEM teachers that culminates with integration of grand challenge concepts and education curricula.

Using developmental evaluation over a multi-year process, core practices for an effective program began emerging:

  • Researchers must identify the basic scientific concepts their work entails. For example, biofuels researchers work with the energy and carbon cycles; nanotechnology researchers must thoroughly understand size-dependent properties, forces, self-assembly, size and scale, and surface area-to-volume ratio.
  • Once identified, these concepts must be mapped to teachers’ state teaching standards and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), making them relevant for teachers.
  • Professional development must be planned for researchers to help them share their research at an appropriate level for use by high school teachers in their classrooms.
  • Professional development must be planned for teachers to help them integrate the research content into their teaching and learning standards in meaningful ways.
  • The professional development for teachers must include illustrative activities that demonstrate scientific concepts and be mapped to state and NGSS teaching standards.

The iterative and rapid feedback processes of developmental evaluation allowed for evolution of the program.  Feedback from data provided impetus for change, but debriefing sessions provided insight to the program and to core practices.  To evaluate the core practices found in the biofuels topic from years 1-3, we used a dissimilar topic, nanotechnology, in years 4-5.  We saw a greater integration of research and education activities in teachers’ curricula as the core practices became more fully developed through iterative repetition even with a new topic. The core practices remained true regardless of topic, and practitioners became better at delivery with more repetitions in years 4 and 5.

 

Blog: Evaluating Creativity in the Context of STEAM Education

Posted on December 16, 2016 by , in Blog ()
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Shelly Engelman
Senior Researcher
The Findings Group, LLC
Morgan Miller
Research Associate
The Findings Group, LLC

At The Findings Group, we are assessing a National Science Foundation Discovery Research K-12 project that gives students an opportunity to learn about computing in the context of music through EarSketch. As with other STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) approaches, EarSketch aims to motivate and engage students in computing through a creative, cross-disciplinary approach. Our challenge with this project was threefold: 1) defining creativity within the context of STEAM education, 2) measuring creativity, and 3) demonstrating how creativity gives rise to more engagement in computing.

The 4Ps of Creativity

To understand creativity, we turned to the literature first.  According to previous research, creativity has been discussed from four perspectives, or the 4Ps of creativity: Process, Person, Press/Place, and Product   For our study, we focused on creativity from the perspective of the Person and the Place. Person refers to the traits, tendencies, and characteristics of the individual who creates something or engages in a creative endeavor. Place refers to the environmental factors that encourage creativity.

Measuring Creativity – Person

Building on previous work by Carroll (2009) and colleagues, we developed a self-report Creativity – Person measure that taps into six aspects of personal expressiveness within computing. These aspects include:

  • Expressiveness: Conveying one’s personal view through computing
  • Exploration:  Investigating ideas in computing
  • Immersion/Flow: Feeling absorbed by the computing activity
  • Originality: Generating unique and personally novel ideas in computing

Through a series of pilot tests with high school students, our final Creativity – Person scale consisted of 10-items and yielded excellent reliability (Cronbach’s alpha= .90 to .93); likewise, it is positively correlated with other psychosocial measures such as computing confidence, enjoyment, and identity and belongingness.

Measuring Creativity—Place

Assessing creativity at the environmental level proved to be more of a challenge! In building the Creativity – Place scale, we turned our attention to previous work by Shaffer and Resnick (1999) who assert that learning environments or materials that are “thickly authentic”—personally-relevant and situated in the real world—promote engagement in learning. Using this as our operational definition of a creative environment, we designed a self-report scale that taps into four identifiable components of a thickly authentic learning environment:

  • Personal: Learning that is personally meaningful for the learner
  • Real World: Learning that relates to the real-world outside of school
  • Disciplinary: Learning that provides an opportunity to think in the modes of a particular discipline
  • Assessment: Learning where the means of assessment reflect the learning process.

Our Creativity – Place scale consisted of 8 items and also yielded excellent reliability (Cronbach’s alpha=.91).

 Predictive Validity

Once we had our two self-report questionnaires in hand—Creativity – Person and Creativity – Place scales—we collected data among high school students who utilized EarSketch as part of their computing course. Our main findings were:

  • Students show significant increases from pre to post in personal expressiveness in computing (Creativity – Person), and
  • A creative learning environment (Creativity – Place) predicted students’ engagement in computing and intent to persist. That is, through a series of multiple regression analyses, we found that a creative learning environment, fueled by a meaningful and personally relevant curriculum, drives improvements in students’ attitudes and intent to persist in computing.

Moving forward, we plan on expanding our work by examining other facets of creativity (e.g., Creativity – Product) through the development of creativity rubrics to assess algorithmic music compositions.

References

Carroll, E.A., Latulipe, C. Fung, R., & Terry, M. (2009). Creativity factor evaluation: Towards a standardized survey metric for creativity support. In C&C ’09: Proceedings of the Seventh ACM Conference on Creativity and Cognition (pp. 127-136). New York, NY:  Association for Computing Machinery.

Engelman, S., Magerko, M., McKlin, T., Miller, M., Douglas, E., & Freeman, J. (in press). Creativity in authentic STEAM education with EarSketch. SIGCSE ’17: Proceedings of the 48th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education.Seattle, WA: Association for Computing Machinery.

Shaffer, D. W., & Resnick, M. (1999). “Thick” authenticity: New media and authentic learning. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 10(2), 195-215.

Blog: The Value of Using a Psychosocial Framework to Evaluate STEM Outcomes Among Underrepresented Students

Posted on December 1, 2016 by , , in Blog ()
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henderson2x breonte2x markert2x
Drs. Dawn X. Henderson, Breonte S. Guy, and Chad Markert serve as Co-Principal Investigators of an HBCU UP Targeted Infusion Project grant. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the project aims to explore how infusing lab-bench techniques into the Exercise Physiology curriculum informs undergraduate students’ attitudes about research and science and intentions to persist in STEM-related careers.

The National Science Foundation aims to fund projects that increase retention and persistence in STEM-related careers. Developing project proposals usually involves creating a logic model and an evaluation plan. The intervention, specifically one designed to change an individual’s behavior and outcomes, relies on a combination of psychological and social factors. For example, increasing the retention and persistence of underrepresented groups in the STEM education-to-workforce pipeline depends on attitudes about science, behavior, and the ability to access resources that lead to access, exploration, and exposure to STEM.

As faculty interested in designing interventions in STEM education, we developed a psychosocial framework to inform project design and evaluation and believe we offer an insightful strategy to investigators and evaluators. When developing a theory of change or logic model, you can create a visual map (see figure below) to identify underlying psychological and social factors and assumptions that influence program outcomes. In this post, we highlight a psychosocial framework for developing theories of change—specifically as it relates to underrepresented groups in STEM.

psychosocial_frameworkVisual mapping can outline the relationship between the intervention and psychological (cognitive) and social domains.

What do we mean by psychosocial framework?

Both retention and persistence rely on social factors, such as financial resources, mentoring, and other forms of social support. For example, in our work, we proposed introducing underrepresented students to lab-bench techniques in the Exercise Physiology curriculum and providing summer enrichment opportunities in research to receive funding and mentoring. Providing these social resources introduced students to scientific techniques they would not receive in a traditional curriculum. Psychological factors, such as individual attitudes about science and self-efficacy, are also key contributors to STEM persistence. For instance, self-efficacy is the belief one has the capacity to accomplish a specific task and achieve a specific outcome.

A practical exercise in developing the psychosocial framework is asking critical questions:

  • What are some social factors driving a project’s outcomes? For example, you may modify social factors by redesigning curriculum to engage students in hands-on experiences, providing mentoring or improving STEM teaching.
  • How can these social factors influence psychological factors? For example, improving STEM education can change the way students think about STEM. Outcomes then could relate to attitudes towards and beliefs about science.
  • How do psychological factors relate to persistence in STEM? For example, changing the way students think about STEM, their attitudes, and beliefs may shape their science identity and increase their likelihood to persist in STEM education (Guy, 2013).

What is the value-added?

Evaluation plans, specifically those seeking to measure changes in human behavior, hinge on a combination of psychological and social factors. The ways in which individuals think and form attitudes and behaviors, combined with their ability to access resources, influence programmatic outcomes. A psychosocial framework can be used to identify how psychological processes and social assets and resources contribute to increased participation and persistence of underrepresented groups in STEM-related fields and the workforce. More specifically, the recognition of psychological and social factors in shaping science attitudes, behaviors, and intentions to persist in STEM-related fields can generate value in project design and evaluation.

Reference
Guy, B. (2013). Persistence of African American men in science: Exploring the influence of scientist identity, mentoring, and campus climate. (Doctoral dissertation).

Useful Resource

Steve Powell’s AEA365 blog post, Theory Maker: Free web app for drawing theory of change diagrams