Birth of Evaluation - Why Focus on
Causation-Correlation l Involving
Stakeholders in Evaluation Design
Evaluation Phobia l
Meaning of Numbers l Value of
Persistence l Arrogance and Modesty
Do you run workshops? offer assistance
with evaluation or assessment? You might find one of the
cartoons or stories below to be useful for lightening the
mood while also making an important point. Have a
cartoon or story to share here? Please email me at ehrmann @
Just heard a good
podcast on humor in academe,
a conversation with Dr. Regina Barreca of the University
of Connecticut. The best points (for me)
come later in the podcast, e.g., that humor in teaching
should not be a plea to be liked but rather, coming out of
authority, is a way to helping people learn.
TERMINOLOGY; BLOOM'S TAXONOMY
This cartoon by David Eubanks could be really funny when
used in a workshop with lots of arcane terminology,
especially if you've been discussing Bloom's Taxonomy.
EVALUATION OF TECHNOLOGY WAS BORN
I heard this story from Frederic ("Rick")
Breitenfeld, many years ago.
"Twenty thousand of years
ago, Thok was a renowned hunter of dangerous tigers,
consistently bringing home meat for the tribe. As his
reputation spread, more and more people from surrounding
bands came to Thok's cave for advice on how to hunt
successfully, and safely. They would bring him gifts of
food, clothing and such, to get him to sit still and answer
their endless questions.
"Soon Thok realized that it
was safer to teach about hunting than it was to hunt, and he
was making a better living as well. He stopped
hunting, and took up teaching full time.
"Years went by. Thok was
becoming elderly -- over 30 -- and a bit infirm. Word
of Thok's wisdom had spread further and further. The crowds
were huge. In fact, people at the fringes ofcould no longer
hear the great teacher. Thok's livelihood was at risk, just
when he was least able to leave teaching and return to the
dangers of hunting.
"Perhaps fear was the mother
of invention. That very morning Thok had an inspiration.
He saw a large banana leaf lying on the ground.
Picking it up, he rolled it into a cone, and spoke into the
small end of the cone, pointing the large end toward the
crowd. It amplified his voice and everyone could hear!
Banana leaves were a kind of magic, it was clear. Thus
was educational technology born.
"But the amazing events of
that morning were not yet over. A young cave person,
Val, was skeptical about this banana magic. So Val picked up
a leaf that Thok had discarded, draped it on top of his
head, and walked around that way for the rest of the day. By
nightfall, Val had learned absolutely nothing new about
hunting. He tossed the leaf aside, and told all his
friends that the old man was wrong: Val's research had
demonstrated conclusively that technology had no role in
"And that's how the
evaluation of educational uses of technology was born."
A good story for getting
participants to focus on the activities that technology
makes possible, rather than on technology per se.
If you look at the
original of the xkcd
cartoon, and put your cursor on it, you'll see a wise and
amusing observation about the value of correlation.
And here's a song, directed
at funders, on the futility of proving who caused what,
especially when the 'who' is the funder. The singer is
focused on evaluation of international development projects,
but the logic is universal. He likens a project to a
tiny stream. The funder wants to affect the ocean, but the
stream flows into a bigger stream, which flows into a bigger
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOUR
AUDIENCE SUSPECTS THE AUTHOR HAS DESIGNED THE EVALUATION SO
THAT IT PRODUCES THE DESIRED FINDING...
Response: ask the girl (audience/stakeholder)
to help design the well (evaluation design).
you an evaluator or assessment expert? Wonder why people
seem to be afraid of you when you're only trying to help...?
(And, yes, I may be 60+, but I have this dream at least once
a month.)To see the original of this xkcd cartoon,
THE MEANING OF NUMBERS
Get the impression I love these .xkcd
cartoons? Only a few are relevant to evaluation, but
they're 'choice.' This cartoon is a great conversation
starter about how to display numbers. To see the
original, click here.
Thanks to Richard Hake for pointing out this observation in
his recent posting to the Professional and Organizational
Development (POD) listserv. Hake wrote that "At a recent
American Association of Physics Teachers meeting in
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, Israeli physicist Uri Ganiel
(2004) of the Weizmann Institute of Science gave an invited
talk "Fostering Change in Science Education: Creation,
Implementation, Evaluation, and Research."
Ganiel concluded with these words
'. . . .let me emphasize again: innovation is a slow
process, and it requires time. To foster innovation, a
systems approach is needed, in which longitudinal,
progressive refinements of program development, school and
classroom organization, teacher training, assessment and
cognitive research, are all considered and activated
together. Being slow, innovation takes a long time. There
are no quick fixes. So we are talking about a long and
painful road, and it requires a lot of stamina. There are
enormous obstacles which have to be overcome, and
persistence is a must.
Sometimes, when reviewing the route we have been taking, I
am reminded of that humorous Jewish story, with which I
shall end these remarks:
A journalist was assigned to the Jerusalem bureau of his
newspaper. He got an apartment overlooking the Wailing Wall.
After several weeks he realized that whenever he looked at
the wall he saw this old Jew praying vigorously. The
journalist wondered whether there was a publishable story
He goes down to the wall, introduces himself and says: "You
come every day to the wall. What are you praying for?"
The old Jew replies: "What am I praying for? In the morning
I pray for world peace, then I pray for the brotherhood of
man. I go home, have a glass of tea, and I come back to the
wall to pray for the eradication of illness and disease from
The journalist is taken by the old Jew's sincerity and
"You mean you have been coming to the wall to pray every day
for these things?"
The old Jew nods.
"How long have you been coming to the wall to pray for these
The old Jew becomes reflective and then replies: "How long?
Maybe twenty, twenty five years."
The journalist is flabbergasted. "You mean you have been
coming to the wall for every day for all those years to pray
for these things?"
The old Jew nods. The amazed journalist finally asks: "How
does it feel to come and pray every day for over many years
for these things?" The old Jew replies:
"How does it feel?
It's like talking to a wall!!' "
Chuck Dziuban of the University of Central Florida, talking
about the eight years of his leadership of an evaluation of
distributed learning at the University, "It's like the
Russian proverb: when you dance with a bear, you can't quit
just because you're tired."
Once upon a time, two hunters hired a
pilot and light plane to fly them into the backcountry of
Canada for some moose hunting. After an hour of flying, the
little plane arrived over a small clearing high in the
mountains. As he circled, the pilot announced his intention
to land. The hunters were alarmed. The tiny meadow didn’t
look big enough for a successful takeoff, especially not
with the added weight of a moose. “Don’t worry,” the pilot
reassured them, “I’ve landed in that very spot half a dozen
So they landed, hunted, bagged a moose, loaded it in the
plane, and prepared for takeoff. With throttle at full
power, the brakes were released and the tiny craft began
bouncing over the rough ground. At the last minute, the
pilot hauled back on the controls, the nose lifted, and the
plane just barely cleared the nearest trees. Their problems
were not over, however. The overloaded aircraft climbed with
painful slowness, engine laboring in the thin air, and a
series of ridges were coming up fast, each one higher than
the last. Quickly a second stand of trees passed just
beneath their straining wings and then a third. It didn’t
seem possible that they could climb fast enough to avoid the
next ridge with its crown of trees. The pilot gave a final
pull at the controls, the propeller snapped into the
branches, and then there was a thunderous crash!
Silence returned to the forest and, after a moment, birds
began to sing again. The battered plane balanced
precariously in the branches of a tall tree. Finally, moans
were heard as the three occupants of the plane recovered
consciousness, tested their limbs, and called out to one
another. The loudest voice was that of the pilot. “This is
great!” he shouted, peering from a shattered window. “We got
at least 30 yards further than the last time I tried to take
off from that clearing!”
DON'T GET TOO
PUFFED UP WITH YOURSELF
A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced
altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended a bit more
and shouted, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a
friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where
The woman below replied, "You are in a hot air balloon
hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You are
between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and
60 degrees west longitude."
"You must be an evaluator," said the balloonist.
"I am," replied the woman, "How did you know?"
"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is
technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your
information, and the fact is I am still lost. Frankly,
you've not been much help so far."
The woman below responded, "You must be a manager."
"I am," replied the balloonist, "but how did you know?"
"Well," said the woman, "you don't know where you are or
where you are going. You have risen to where you are due to
a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise which you
have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your
problem. The fact is you are in exactly the same position
you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's my fault."
Carolyn Sullins contributed this story to EvalTalk, the
listserv of the American Evaluation Association.
Help us make more people smile. Please send additional
stories and cartoons for this resource! (ehrmann