The Open Society and TC Collaborate on Project Evaluations
For several years, the Department of International and Transcultural Studies has been offering a course in Evaluation of International Education Projects. In the past, Professor Gita Steiner-Khamsi worked with different organizations to provide projects to be evaluated by TC students in the class. In the last two years, the course was done in cooperation with Professor Cathryn Magno, Assistant Professor at Southern Connecticut State University and formerly the evaluation director at the International Rescue Committee, and Hugh McLean of the Education Support Programme of the Open Society Institute in Budapest (OSI).
On past projects, the project staff who worked in the field offices of the partner international organizations simply provided students with information on the projects being evaluated.
"I thought they should be part of that training," said Steiner-Khamsi. "We incorporated local capacity building to build local potential."
So, starting in 2000, project staff members actively participated in the course through the use of distance learning and technology. Now, TC students apply qualitative research methods in a real institutional setting while at the same time the international organizations are building their local capacity. University lecturers from the participating countries were also invited to be part of the class in an effort to help them develop similar courses in their countries.
According to Steiner-Khamsi, "TC wants to help universities in other regions that teach the same course by having professors participate. Rather than making them dependent on us to provide this type of course, we help them to teach the same course in their universities."
Magno added that they are hoping to create an international network of evaluation experts with TC students as part of that network.
McLean explained the Open Society Institute's interest in the program. "For our part, we do programs in education development in all CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries, working in education reform and policy reform," he said. "Linked to that is the need for research to look at the success of the change initiatives."
Normally, he noted, evaluation work is done by "some westerner who has credentials," adding, "There are not local people with sufficient skills. It would be a key way of developing a local capacity by increasing research skills of local people."
As a result, the Open Society, instead of paying consultants to come in and do evaluations, fund TC students to conduct field research in CIS countries in teams with their local staff members, thereby providing professional development for their own people as well.
The course consists of three components: face-to-face interaction through meetings held in New York City, Istanbul (Turkey), and Moscow (Russia); on-site evaluation by the students (the field component); and distance learning. This year the on-site evaluations were conducted in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, Kosovo, and Slovenia. Last year's list of participating countries included Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. The Soros Foundation covers all the travel and accommodation costs for TC students to conduct their on-site evaluation in the participating countries.
The face-to-face meetings consist of two three-day workshops for the New York-based and two for the Europe-based participants. These were the only two times when the two groups met in person. The remainder of the coursework was done on-line or on-site with their evaluation teams.
On-site evaluation and data collection was held during spring break, when TC students traveled to their project site and helped collect and analyze data.The team members met and supported each other and, for one hour per week, interacted online with their adviser to discuss logistics, clarify questions or received feedback on their work.
The distance learning component consists of 10 lecture modules posted to the class Web site, discussion boards, chat rooms, a virtual library, and Web sites of students and instructors. Orientation is in the form of video introductions by the advisers. Posted lectures are audio based as are records of the meetings in New York and Europe.
Aleesha Taylor, a student in the Spring 2003 course at TC, has been working on evaluating a teacher training program in Kosovo. "The distance learning component is really the only way you can do this class because of the international counterparts," she said. "I wouldn't taken an online class normally, but for the purposes of this class, it has worked really well."
She also noted the importance of the on-site component. "Without the on-site evaluation, I don't know how it would have worked out. I think we all feel we have more of a grasp on where what we are doing."
Some of the past participating TC students have gone on to receive consulting jobs as a result of their participation in this course. Paul Kim, a student who took the course last year, is one of them. Kim, who had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Slovakia for 7 years, was assigned, as part of the course, to a team evaluating a higher education support program in Slovakia designed to help university professors and departments develop courses that were traditionally not offered in the prior socialist regime there.
Kim is currently working on a project for the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, which contacted Steiner-Khamsi looking for someone to evaluate a similar program for higher education faculty and administrators from Asian countries. Kim, the sole evaluator on the project is looking at the effectiveness of the program, which is allowing the Asian professors and administrators to learn new styles of pedagogy or management by traveling to other schools in Asia and within the United States.
An Ed.M. student in International Education Development Policy Analysis, Kim credits the course he took last year with preparing him for this work. "The evaluation class is one of the top classes I have taken at TC," he said. "I would have come to the school just for the class. You are working on learning important skills and theories from the course and at the same time you are working on a real-life project with the Foundation. Plus, you have mentoring from two professors who are brilliant in what they do."
Taylor also commented on the thoroughness of the evaluation. "Many people say that in previous evaluations, they were not asked for as much information as we are asking for. I feel as if we are getting even more than necessary skills to prepare us to conduct evaluations on our own or as members of evaluation teams."
"This course is a unique way to build cross-border communities," Magno said. "It is an unusual opportunity for students to be able to combine theory and practice in an international setting. A lot of students at TC have worked abroad previously, but their time at TC is usually theory intense, whereas this course combines the theory and practice.