22 SES 12 A, Evaluation as a Basis for Policy and Practice in Higher Education: International Perspectives
In the practice and policy of higher education, evidence-based work and evaluation are becoming increasingly important, resulting in a focus on institution-based higher education research (Tight, 2004). Whilst in most countries there is a tradition of several decades of accountability in education and research (Slavin, 2002), now individual higher educational institutions are increasingly evaluating the policy and/or educational changes they impute themselves, resulting in more local evaluative research activities. The complexity of this type of evaluation research – at least from the perspective of the researcher - is that often the research-part is not integral to the innovative project, rather developed following the implementation of a new policy or practice. As an effect, the study can then lack a robust conceptual or theoretical framework (Cartwright & Hardie, 2012; Tight, 2004). This can lead to the design of the evaluation being centred on the innovation as such, rather than resulting in an optimal measurement design (Cousin, 2009; Slavin, 2002). The innovation is what stands out, the evaluative research is added because policy makers want to know the effect, and they are less interested in making space for the foundations underneath the conclusions (Bridges, Smeyers, & Smith, 2009). However, this also depends on the type of department that executes the evaluative research in higher education (Tight, 2004).
Although the increase in higher education research is likely to be considered a positive thing by higher education researchers and policy makers, one can wonder if the situation as described above is ideal. In the context of the knowledge economy, the trend towards usefulness of innovations in higher education, combined with a possible lack of depth in evaluative research that is used as argument for new policy decisions. It is difficult for higher educational researchers to include the complexity of educational sites into the wanted message of ‘what works’ by policy makers, who often have a statistical medical design model in mind (Blackmore, 2002; Cousin, 2009).
This symposium addresses these practices of evaluative research in higher education combining three paper presentations with a debate with the discussant and the audience. The first paper by Karlsson considers the rationale behind evaluative practices in Swedish universities, especially in light of strategic management. This paper provides a broad perspective on the reasons for evaluative research in higher education. The results show how these evaluative practices are primarily responses to external demands. The second and third papers are case studies of evaluation research undertaken by individual higher educational institutes. The second paper by Griffioen, Doppenberg, Enthoven and Oostdam addresses the feeling of acceptance of honour programs by lecturers in a Dutch new university four years after initial implementation. The third paper by Turner, Cotton, Child, Stevens, Nash and Kneale evaluates the impact of implemented modules that immerse students into their discipline, with the aim to gain insights into the impact on students’ early experiences of university study and their development of a sense of belonging at university. The last two papers will also actively pay attention to the initiation, design and (expected) impact of the study on the specific higher education institute in question.
By combining a strategic-empirical perspective with case study research, this symposium will give more insight into evaluative practices and their complexities in contemporary higher education.
Bridges, D., Smeyers, P., & Smith, R. (Eds.). (2009). Evidence-based education policy. What evidence? What basis? Whose policy? Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Blackmore, J. (2002). Is it only ‘What works’ that ‘Counts’ in New Knowledge Economies? Evidence-based Practice, Educational Research and Teacher Education in Australia. Social Policy and Society, 1(3), 257 - 266. Bridges, D., Smeyers, P., & Smith, R. (Eds.). (2009). Evidence-based education policy. What evidence? What basis? Whose policy? Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Cousin, G. (2009). Researching Learning in Higher Education: an introduction to contemporary methods and approaches. Routledge: London. Cartwright, N., & Hardie, J. (2012). Evidence-Based Policy. A Practical Guide to Doing it Better. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Slavin, R. E. (2002). Evidence-Based Education Policies: Transforming Educational Practice and Research. Educational researcher, 31(7), 15-21. Tight, M. (2004). Research into higher education: an a‐theoretical community of practice? Higher education Research & Development, 23(4), 395-411.
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