Beverly Peters, Assistant Professor
In the summer of 1999, I had just signed a contract to direct American University's programs in southern Africa. As I sat in a garden in Harare, Zimbabwe, having tea with the late Professor David Hirschmann, who at the time was the Director of AU's International Development Program, we discussed my work in HIV/AIDS, the challenges of development work in Zimbabwe, and the changing political environment in South Africa. After engaging in international development work in the region for almost 15 years, I had learned three local languages, lived in villages, and taught at historically disadvantaged institutions where students had no electricity or running water in their homes. I clearly remember the wise words that Professor Hirschmann shared with me that sunny day: Approach your interactions with American University students as a mentor, integrating theory and practice into your teaching. Let your students learn from your experiences working in the region, so that they can avoid common pitfalls and make positive contributions to community development. Find ways to connect with students individually, helping them to learn the skills they need to become responsible professionals in today's globalized economy.
From Past to Present
Fast-forward 20 years, and I'm in a very different situation, teaching Measurement and Evaluation courses in American University's online program. Although online courses rely heavily on positive interaction between peers, the course material, and the professor for instruction, Professor Hirschmann's advice—integrating theory and practice, and connecting with students individually—is perhaps even more important in an online environment. I must be approachable as I aim to identify the professional and educational goals of individual students and provide them with feedback to build the skills necessary to excel in evaluation today.
I use Skype and email, so that mentoring, feedback, and growth become an integral part of the online learning experience. I also provide students with opportunities outside the classroom including hosting AU webinars, writing about their evaluation experiences in the Evaluation in Practice blog, and presenting at the American Evaluation Association annual conferences. Students look at me as more of a mentor than a professor, and the relationship that I develop with students continues far beyond the eight weeks that we spend together in the online classroom.
Sharing Practical Skills through AU Online
The overall learning experience in American University's online Measurement and Evaluation programs is a practical one. Instructors integrate practical evaluation experience into lectures and class discussions, so that students learn from our successes and failures and become better project evaluators and managers in the process. The Measurement and Evaluation faculty has worked for years domestically and in countries across the globe, in functional fields as diverse as community development, education, public health, governance, and business development. The faculty are academic practitioners who understand traditional approaches to evaluation but are also at the forefront of testing new and emerging trends.
This degree is largely an experiential one—even though it is offered in an online format. The coursework has been designed to teach students theory, while also engaging them in practice. In all classes, students engage the material on a practical level. For instance, when I teach Evaluation: Qualitative Methods, I require students to conduct interviews and a focus group with representatives from an organization in their local community. Rather than just reading about interviews and focus groups, students use data collection tools, and I provide detailed feedback on their research experiences and data quality. In this way, students learn from their experiences using several of the qualitative data collection tools they need to master as professional evaluators.
Students also learn from peers in class. The online setting is an international one, and students have a variety of different experiences they bring to their studies. This helps to enrich the classroom environment, and creates a network of future measurement and evaluation professionals.
Coming Full Circle
Two decades after that initial meeting with Professor Hirschmann in Harare, students in my classes integrate theory and practice, while learning from my successes and setbacks. This helps them become better evaluators. I am proud to say that students and alums in American University's Measurement and Evaluation programs are making a positive difference in the world around them, under the mentorship of myself and other program faculty.
To learn more about American University's online Graduate Certificate in Project Monitoring & Evaluation or online MS in Measurement and Evaluation program, request more information or contact an admissions advisor at 855-725-7614.