OPEN recently worked with Portland State to conduct a focus group discussing ideas for a graduate certificate in program evaluation that PSU is planning to launch soon. A summary of the discussion follows.
The OPEN focus group discussed the drafting and implementation of a new graduate certificate in program evaluation at Portland State University. Discussion covered two major topics, skills that individuals who enroll in the certificate program should obtain and the structure of the required practicum as well as practicum supervision.
A major trend in the discussion was for students to be able to work with realistic conditions, not just hypotheticals based on best-case scenarios. The PEC program should work to emulate what is seen put into practice, what happens in the “real world”. An essential skill that was discussed was for students to obtain knowledge of the program evaluation community. Students should learn national and local organizations, journals, types of jobs, and useful skills seen in the job market. A final discussion point was for students to be able to conduct a program evaluation from start to finish. They should know the nuts-and-bolts of program evaluation and how it is conducted in realistic terms. Given that students will begin the program with a wide range of skills and experience, not all students completing the Certificate would have the capacity to lead a major program evaluation initiative. However, all students would know the steps and components for an evaluation as well as where to turn for additional expertise in the process.
There was consensus among focus group participants that students of the Program Evaluation Certification (PEC) course should become skilled in understanding database setup, data management and cleaning. It was also noted that having some background in GIS may be useful.
Many ideas for the practicum were discussed for the PEC program. There was discussion of having a cohort structure for the program and potentially offer group oriented projects. However, it was noted that it may be more realistic to have people work individually on separate projects. There was strong agreement that the practicum should contain some sort of example of evaluative work. It was recommended that individuals work with local organizations and work on real projects, in an intern style capacity for 6-12 months. A number of participants talked about the importance of the supervision they had received in their own practicum experience. It was agreed that supervision at PSU could comprise a single quarter with projects presented and joint troubleshooting of challenges so that all PEC students would benefit from the actual challenges and possible solutions during the in-class portion of the practicum. The class would be led by an instructor who would lead discussions of student projects, bring in guest speakers, and provide necessary resources and information to facilitate students’ successful completion and write-up of their projects.