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What is evaluation?

To begin the course we first need to understand what evaluation means. There are many definitions of evaluation depending on the context and discipline, but most have a common thread.

A common definition is: “The process of determining to what extent the educational objectives are actually being realized” (Tyler, 1950, p. 69)

Another accepted definition is: “Evaluation is the process of determining merit, worth, or significance; an evaluation is a product of that process” (Scriven, 1991, p. 53)

However, Cronbach and associates (1980) clearly rejected the judgmental nature of evaluation advocating an approach that recognises the evaluator as: “an educator [whose] success is to be judged by what others learn” (p. 11) rather than a “referee [for] a basketball game” (p. 18) who is hired to decide who is “right” or “wrong”.

Talking point

Time to vote.

  1. Think about the definitions of evaluation. Identify which is your favourite and post in the discussion with one sentence about why this definition resonates with you.

  2. Use the ‘like’ button to have your say too. You can click on ‘like’ to vote on the your favourite definition and explanation. You might have to revisit this talking point at a later stage to complete this.

Based on a review of the definitions, there are three key components of evaluation:

  1. who is doing evaluation?
  2. what is the purpose of the evaluation?
  3. for whom the evaluation is done?

An assumption underpinning this course is that ‘evaluation is an analytical process that is intrinsic to good teaching’ (Ramsden, 2003, p. 209).

In the educational evaluation context, Nevo (1983) suggested ten questions to drive the discussion/review of what evaluation entails.

These ten questions can provide a scaffold for you to consider in planning your mini-evaluation which is one of the main activities for this course.

  1. How is evaluation defined?
  2. What are the functions of evaluation?
  3. What are the objects of evaluation?
  4. What kinds of information should be collected regarding each object
  5. What criteria should be used to judge the merit and worth of an evaluated object?
  6. Who should be served by an evaluation?
  7. What is the process of doing an evaluation?
  8. What methods of inquiry should be used in evaluation?
  9. Who should do evaluation?
  10. By what standards should evaluation be judged?

Reflection point

These ten questions provide a comprehensive overview of the evaluation process. Do you agree that each of the questions should be on the list? Are there missing questions?

Want to know more?

If you would like to more about this topic evaluation there are additional resources listed in the Want to know more.pdf for this step.


Cronbach, L. J., Ambron, S. R., Dornbusch, S. M., Hess, R. D., Hornik, R. C., Phillips, D. C., Walker, D. F. & Weiner, S. S. (1980). Toward reform of program evaluation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Nevo, D. (1983). The conceptualization of educational evaluation: An analytical review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 53(1),117-128.

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to teach in higher education. 2nd edition. London: Routledge.

Scriven, M. (1991). Evaluation thesaurus. Fourth edition. Newbury Park : Sage.

Tyler, R. W. (1950). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Enhancing Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

UNSW Sydney