In our session this week we were broken into small working groups and tasked with coming up with a list of strategies to alleviate the anxiety that adult learners experience in response to evaluation. In The Art of Evaluation, Fenwick and Parsons state that “adults are, by nature, wary of evaluation” (p.32). When I read this, I thought, “Wow, that’s a blanket statement, isn’t it?” It certainly hasn’t been my experience. My natural response to evaluation isn’t wariness. In fact, as a consumer of adult education (building upon the idea that adult education is increasingly becoming instrumentalized as a product in a post-modern global political economy), evaluation, as a part of my learning, is an expectation. I’ve paid for the course and now I want to see how well the institution has delivered the education that they promised. And the way to do that is through evaluation.
In fact, the only wariness that I have is how that evaluation will take place and how well will it measure the learning that I am expecting to obtain from taking the course. I don’t even think that I would describe it as a ‘wariness’, either. More of a natural skepticism. That feeling that everyone gets when you’ve shelled out 500 bucks for something after countless hours of shopping. You’re pretty confident in your purchase but when you bring the product home and as you open it up, you wonder, “Is this going to be everything that I thought it would be? Is it going to offer any surprises? Are those surprises going to be good or bad?” Bringing it back to the learning context, I question whether the evaluation does what it’s meant to do, or measure what it’s meant to measure. Is it congruent with the stated goals of the course? I also question whether or not the evaluation will enhance my learning. Will it provide me an opportunity to apply the concepts to my own life experience, to provide new and unexpected insights and will it prove useful in the future? Will I say at some time in later years, “This makes sense…I recall a course I took and a paper I wrote/presentation I did/ test I took….”
Fenwick and Parsons offer up a number of techniques to “create an atmosphere where honest evaluation is welcomed as an aid, instead of a threat” (p. 32). Chief among those techniques and echoed in many of the working group discussions this week was the idea of introducing evaluation early on in the learning event. Some groups suggested that evaluation should be reviewed in a clear and concise way even before the learning event has started, before the first day of class. I agreed wholeheartedly with this suggestion. In fact, as I pondered this concept further, I came to the conclusion that ‘the learning event’ actually starts long before the first day of class, long before I get the syllabus, I would argue. It begins when I first start ‘shopping’, the first time I say, “I think that I would like to learn about….” So, with this in mind, I wonder why more courses don’t offer up their methods of evaluation earlier on in this process. In the course calendar, why don’t they add to the statement , “The learning goals for this course are..." something like "...and the way that they will be evaluated will be…”? Even if the institution is flexible on the type of evaluation that can be done so long as the achievement of learning goals are measured (another strategy identified in our discussions this week) should this not be explicit in the course calendar? As an adult learner, this would certainly alleviate some of my anxiety.