Programme evaluation by teachers : an observational study
Evaluation is a term used to denote many different processes in Applied Linguistics and language education, from language proficiency assessment to materials selection to project management. In this study evaluation is taken as programme inquiry for the purposes of accountability and development (Rea-Dickins and Germaine 1992; Weir and Roberts 1994). The context of evaluation is EAP programmes in higher education, where a policy of programme evaluation by teachers provides base data for the institution's quality management system. Evaluation in this sense is a complex process, embedded in and potentially destabilising for the prevailing social order in classrooms, departments, and institutions. To capture this complexity and embeddedness, a qualitative methodology is developed from naturalistic inquiry and ethnography to study two EAP programmes and their evaluations. The classroom observation and interview data are used to explore the operation of the evaluation policy, its consequences in terms of programme improvement and teacher development, its quality assurance functions, and its impact on the programme experience of one particular student. The study shows that in this context the evaluation policy has beneficial and problematic consequences. It looks good, and thus enables a case to be made for rigorous quality management. It provides a space for students to negotiate the programme, and for the teacher, opportunities for reflection and development. However, the policy also risks being seen by teachers as intrusion, compromising teacher autonomy, and aggravating teacher-manager problems. Students provide feedback on teaching and inputs (including the teacher) rather than on learning or opportunities for learning in terms of the values underpinning the programme. The strong students can use the evaluation strategically, to further their own preferences, at the expense of the weaker students who are marginalised. The concluding chapter outlines some ways forward for this approach to evaluation in this context. These include realigning purposes and methods, building on teacher ownership of and responsibility for programmes, linking evaluation in the classroom to other forms of educational inquiry, and managing the programme in its widest sense in an ethical framework.