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While I was at the 2008 conference of the American Evaluation Association in Denver, I came across a post by Vicki Davis suggesting that all conference attendees be required to write a reflection about their conference experience, for the benefit of those unable to attend. For what it is worth, here is my reflection on this year’s AEA conference.
The conference began on Wednesday and ended on Saturday. I spent most of Wednesday visiting family in Colorado and flew back to Virginia on Saturday. I was feeling ill on Thursday and had to present on Friday, so I didn’t get to see as much of the conference as I would have liked. Still, I was able to attend several conference sessions, two of which I found particularly interesting.
The first interesting conference session that I attended was on logic models. I picked this session out of the conference program because I remembered my professor talking about logic models in my program evaluation course but knew that I would be unable to explain logic models to a third party. I figured that I could use some additional instruction on the concept and I wasn’t disappointed. Cynthia Phillips and Lisa Knowlton of Phillips Wyatt Knowlton Inc., the editors of The Logic Model Guidebook: Better Strategies for Great Results, gave the presentation. I haven’t read their book yet, but it is now on my “to-read” list.
Phillips and Knowlton took the audience through the process of brainstorming and creating a logic model. The group identified inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes for a hypothetical program. Cynthia Phillips pointed out the importance of identifying the key linkages between inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes before identifying indicators of success and making decisions about measurement in program evaluation. I came in to the presentation late, but was impressed by the level of audience participation in discussion of the role of logic models in professional evaluation projects. Some participants argued that logic models are more useful for evaluators than clients, while others suggested that that there is value in having all stakeholders buy-in to a single logic model for a program in order to have a common language with which to discuss progress in achieving program goals. I’m not sure with which side of the argument I agree. Stakeholder buy-in seems like a noble goal, but taking a year to acheive consensus on a theoretical model may have opportunity costs in the form of retarded progress towards program goals. The main thing that I took away from Phillips and Knowlton’s presentation was a desire to learn more about logic models. During the presentation, I wondered if anyone had ever bothered to create a logic model for a traditional k12 classroom school, or school system. I wondered if a logic model would graphically depict the disconnects that I see between our inputs and activities and our desired outcomes for k12 education. It’s something that I’m still thinking about.
The second interesting presentation that I attended was titled, “Systems Thinking for Curriculum Evaluation”. Presenters Glenda Shoop, Jan Noga, and Meg Hargreaves gave a basic primer on two models of systems, the Kast and Rosenweig Model and the 4C’s Model for Systemic Change, before dividing group members up into small groups for an activity. I had to leave before the activity in order to meet family members, but the presentation made me wonder if logic models and systems models are compatible ways of thinking. I don’t know enough about either yet to say for sure, but I want to know more. I think the desire to know more is a indicator of a quality conference presentation.
My presentation was about the results of an evaluation of instructional use of Blackboard at Brigham Young University. I’ll write a separate post about the contents of the presentation. Right now I just want to reflect on the experience of presenting. First, it wasn’t nearly as scary as I’d worked it up to be in my head. I beat myself up for several days because I couldn’t think of an interesting way to present my data using PowerPoint and hadn’t thought far enough ahead to get handouts printed up before leaving for the presentation. My slides were pretty boring, but there weren’t many of them, they were generally simple, and I didn’t read from them. I just talked about what I thought was interesting about my results. There were only about 18-20 people in the room, but based on their questions, they seemed to think my results were interesting too.
The best experiences that I had at the conference didn’t come from attending or presenting conference sessions. The best experiences were in the in-between times. I went to lunch with fascinating people from all over the world and I reconnected with old friends. The exchange of ideas during these in-between times was fast and uninhibited. As much as I like the Internet for what it can do, attending a face-to-face conference reminded me of what it can’t do.