Problems of evaluation with special reference to the evaluation of Open University counselling

Thomas, Alan (1977). Problems of evaluation with special reference to the evaluation of Open University counselling. PhD thesis The Open University.



The thesis is concerned with problems of evaluation, both in the general sense of how anything may be evaluated and more specifically with the topic of the evaluation of the Open University counselling service.

Although evaluation has long been a topic of concern to philosophers, the specialism of educational evaluation has emerged relatively recently. In particular, a body of ’theory' and practice has developed in the United States, oriented initially to the evaluation of curricula and increasingly towards the servicing of educational decisions of all kinds. A number of schemes for the conduct of evaluation have been proposed, yet there is widespread dissatisfaction with the results of evaluative research.

Given the problematic nature of evaluation in education, and that an examination of the concept of evaluation, might throw some light on the difficulties, it is necessary to consider some of the philosophical positions on the subject. Following this a model of evaluation is outlined, and the importance of standards for the process of evaluation is emphasised. It is argued that calls for formal evaluations typically arise under conditions of dispute among decision-makers, and some possible ways of resolving such disputes are considered. The need to establish the decision-makers' degree of incorrigibility with regard to research findings is also proposed.

An evaluation project on the Open University counselling service faced a number of difficulties, and the progress of this work is reported. The account provides a relatively rare glimpse of the social and organisational context of evaluative research in a highly unusual institution. The problems are considered in the light of the analysis of the evaluation process, and in terms of the specific circumstances surrounding the project.

Finally, some suggestions are made as to how more fruitful evaluations might be achieved in the future.

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