Student journalling

Evaluation, Internships and Community Partners 

Our undergraduate students enrolled in the PACE unit “Internships in Social Research” frequently conduct evaluation studies for different community partners. However, we noticed that the time-frame of a single semester is too short for developing a sophisticated evaluation plan, as well as implementing it…

We have thus kick-started a pilot project—enabled by a PACE Development  Grant—which combines the postgraduate unit “Evaluation and the Policy Process” with the PACE unit mentioned above. These two units are convened by Maria Amigo and Markus Hadler, respectively.

In this pilot project, postgraduate students develop an evaluation proposal for a community partner as part of their course requirements—an evaluation that is later implemented by undergraduate students during internship. We would like to share our early experiences with this partnership model here.

Partnership with FACS

As part of the trial, we have worked closely with the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS). Our contact in the Department is Principal Project Officer, Andrew Ellery.

Andrew’s part of the agreement included a presentation in week eight to the 17 postgraduate students in the “Evaluation and the Policy Process” unit. This presentation was to outline two of the Department’s current projects, projects set up to empower the Pacific Islander Community and burns survivors. These were both projects that were in an actual and current need of an evaluation. Furthermore, Andrew and a staff member were to provide preliminary feed-back to presentations by postgraduate students in week 13 of Session 2. Granted sufficient quality of these proposals, the Department was later to facilitate and aide undergraduate students in their implementation of the evaluation plan during internships.

Our part of the agreement included facilitating the process in order to receive high quality proposals from students; forwarding the best of the evaluation proposals for Andrew’s use, and; facilitating future undergraduate internships.

Positive Signs: One Step Further

Our early assessment of this model is positive. The evaluation proposals that students have developed are of high quality, generally. It appears that students have gone that “one step further” in developing useable, implementable proposals. Thus it seems that bringing in actual, current projects to consider for assignments gives relevance to the assignments, thereby improving the educational outcomes.

For students, another—although less tangible–benefit is the realisation that their skills and knowledge have genuine and current value in organisations. Evaluation can and should enhance the quality of programs designed to solve or ameliorate social problems. By linking our teaching program to organisations and by linking evaluation theory to real “wicked problems”, students start to appreciate that what they are able to do as a result of their training actually matters to organisations. Another benefit for students is that they get to meet and have access to people on the outside of university. It is important to create links to organisations, give students industry experience and set them up for future employment.

Furthermore, as an applied science it is important that evaluation, as we teach it, takes into account the real needs of organisations for knowledge about their programs. This sharpens us as educators and forces us to design our courses to the needs of the industry that our students are to enter into. Finally, this model helps establish connections between Macquarie University and the community.

Branching Out

In 2016, we are extending the group of community partners. In addition to a continued partnership with Andrew Ellery, focussing on a new project under FACS, our community partners also include two new ones. One is the charitable foundation Books in Homes Australia—a not-for-profit organisation based in Sydney that provides new books of choice to over 20,000 disadvantaged children across Australia.  Another partner is Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand —a religious charity working for and with disadvantaged and marginalised women and girls. As the first step in the process, both organisations will present a suitable project to the postgraduate students in S1, 2016.

Also in 2016, we expect that the first undergraduate student will commence and carry out evaluations of both the FACS projects mentioned above, implementing two evaluation proposals already developed by postgraduate students.

For more information about the project, please contact Charlotte Overgaard (charlotte.overgaard@mq.edu.au)

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