Curriculum evaluation is a crucial part of program design. It is necessary to estimate whether the curriculum’s components, content, strategy, and methods are appropriate to achieve the declared goals. It is important that curriculum evaluation is not as much a stage of a program as it is an ongoing process requiring a high level of cooperation, collaboration, and communication. It should be acknowledged that curriculum evaluation is a challenging task (Bastable, 2014). One of the major challenges is that program designers participate in the evaluation. In order for the evaluation to be effective, the program designers need to adopt certain critical techniques that would allow them to discuss the curriculum’s strengths and weaknesses with an adequate level of objectivity.
Curriculum evaluation primarily pursues the assessment of the effectiveness of the program in terms of fulfilling the purpose of the program and achieving its goals. In order to do so, both internal and external factors affecting curriculum design need to be identified. Also, a major component of such evaluation is systematic assessment of the program’s outcomes (Billings & Halstead, 2012). Therefore, programs are not merely evaluated as per compliance with theoretical models, but also their applications such as students’ knowledge, perception, and success should be considered within the evaluation framework.
What is essential to curriculum evaluation is developing an evaluation model. It should systematically describe how the elements of evaluation are interconnected. The systematic approach will ensure that the evaluation manages to determine what is effective and beneficial about a curriculum and what, on the contrary, should be changed and improved (Iwasiw & Goldenberg, 2015). Along with the model, certain criteria need to be established to answer in a well-founded manner the questions about the effectiveness of the curriculum’s content and methods.
Model of Evaluation
There are various approaches to designing a model of curriculum evaluation. One of the most prominent approaches is to divide the evaluation process and criteria into three categories: mission and goals, curriculum, and teaching effectiveness (Iwasiw, Goldenberg, & Andrusyszyn, 2009). Although the categories are interconnected, each of them contains distinct criteria of successfulness. Another approach primarily divides the evaluation criteria into two groups: student learning outcomes and program outcomes. The latter group consists of strict, mostly quantitative indicators such as certification examination results, completion rates, and employment rates in the area of professional practice. However, this group of criteria also features qualitative indicators such as students’ satisfaction and employers’ satisfaction. The criteria of the other group, which is learning outcomes, consider the students’ proficiency in the studied area and the graduates’ success in the area of professional practice.
What should also be included in the evaluation is the program’s structure and design (Tappen, 2011). It is important to determine whether the program employs all necessary methods to deliver the curriculum materials to students in the most effective way. Therefore, the criteria should include the assessment of readings, assignments, lesson structure, teachers’ proficiency, interactions in class, and technological aspects of lessons. These components of curricula can be measured through comparing program’s characteristics to theoretical standards identified in the relevant literature or through exploring the perception of teachers and students regarding effectiveness.
Whatever approach to designing a model is chosen, criteria need to be conceptualized and made convenient for measuring (Moyer & Wittmann-Price, 2008). Normally, scales are developed to devise surveys and evaluation sheets. A commonly employed scale is the 1 to 4 evaluation where 1 is “unsatisfactory” and 4 is “excellent.” For the purposes of curriculum evaluation, an educational program should score “three or above” to be rated as successful.
In order to develop a strong evaluation plan, it is crucial to define the program’s objectives and subsequently measure if the objectives are met.
First of all, the program’s objectives need to be identified. There are two generally recognized objectives (Giddens, 2013):
- To educate nurse practitioners by providing them with theoretical knowledge and practical skills to promote health and contribute to the well-being of people in all circumstances and at all stages of life;
- To provide a basis for further studies in the area of nursing as well as for the continuation of professional practice in various spheres of nursing.
Second, it is necessary to establish how the evaluators will know that objectives are met, i.e. what indicators need to be considered to deem the outcomes successful. These indicators include students’ performance data as well as student satisfaction and employer satisfaction rates. A way to do so is to list learning outcomes of the program, i.e. what a graduate will possess or be able to do after the completion of the program (Brown, 2012). The expected outcomes for this program include:
- The use of conceptual and theoretical knowledge from the sphere of nursing as well as all other spheres studied within the program; the knowledge should be relevant to the provision of professional health care;
- Provision of nursing care to patients of different age and life situation;
- Critical thinking in terms of decision-making relevant to the professional practice in general and day-to-day nursing tasks in particular;
- Good knowledge and practical application of technological skills relevant to the modern-day nursing practice;
- The ability to find relevant data from nursing studies and apply research results and findings to actual professional tasks;
- Effective communication with patients and families as well as other members of medical teams, including nurses and physicians;
- Leadership and management skills, i.e. possessing the vision and employing strategic approaches to problem-solving (Porter-O’Grady & Malloch, 2003);
- Knowledge of nursing ethics, i.e. the ability to consider positive and negative outcomes of actions as well as ethical principles in nursing practice for the purpose of making ethical and beneficial decisions;
- Knowledge of legal aspects of nursing;
- Knowledge of nursing professional standards;
- Understanding of the profession’s financial aspects and the concept of cost-effectiveness;
- Awareness of global social, political, cultural, and economic trends and factors that affect the area of nursing in the modern world;
- Responsibility for professional practice.
In order to evaluate the extent to which the outcomes of the program comply with the expected outcomes described above, the following measures will be applied:
- The evaluation of students will be based on the examination provided at the end of the course; passing the examination will signify satisfactory compliance with the expected outcomes;
- Graduates will be surveyed upon completion of the program as well as after a certain period of time after that; the goal is to find out whether the graduates perceive the program as beneficial for their education and professional practice;
- Employers will be surveyed to determine whether they regard their employees’ levels of competence, professionalism, and performance adequate to the positions of the employees.
Besides learning outcomes, what should also be assessed as part of the program evaluation is the curriculum design. This part of the evaluation occurs at different levels and stages of a program, from planning to completion. The first two criteria for this evaluation are the amounts of theoretical and practical knowledge provided within the program. This criterion can be measured through analyzing the balance between teaching practical skills, on the one hand, and providing theoretical and conceptual frameworks (through relevant academic literature as part of readings and class materials), on the other hand. Another important criterion is student involvement and interaction that can be measured through the rates of student participation and the frequency and intensity of class discussions. Students’ feedback should also be considered for this indicator.
Program evaluation is important to education in any area because, if properly done, evaluation ensures the high quality of education and the constant development. Program and curriculum evaluation in nursing is an ongoing process. It starts with designing the program by applying most recent knowledge of nursing education to defining the program’s philosophy, mission, and goals as well as creating the syllabus (Butts, 2015). When the program starts, the evaluation continues by considering students’ feedback. At the end of the program, students’ examination results demonstrate how successful the program was in terms of complying with the expected learning outcomes. Upon completion, the program is evaluated through surveying graduates and employers as well as examining graduates’ success in the professional area. Ongoing evaluation by clearly defined criteria generates constant feedback for educators, which helps them improve programs, make them more effective, and ensure further development of programs and curricula.
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