Unplugged, but in touch: Program evaluation in the digital age

Ms Becky Harth1
1The Outdoor Education Group, Moss Vale, Australia


Outdoor education programs ask young people to challenge themselves by trying new things and reflecting on them in order to learn and grow. Yet how often do we as organisations dare to role model our own reflective practices?

Program evaluation paperwork can be frustrating, intimidating and time-consuming. At times, it adds to our workload and the attempt to understand an organic experience can sometimes feel like a betrayal of the experience itself.

Technology can help take the pain out of program evaluation. The Outdoor Education Group (OEG) uses digital surveys to collect feedback from young people and client staff. Our approach to evaluation needs to be supportive for a team of over 100 field staff, simple and quick enough to do in the field, and easy to implement on a large scale. Data and continuous feedback loops are used to understand program impact, coach staff, improve programs and advocate for the value of outdoor education within client communities.

Since 2018, over 40,000 young Australians and 4,000 client staff have given their feedback on outdoor education experiences ranging from 2 to 34 days in length. Their responses are honest, sometimes funny and often incredibly insightful.

If we really want to make a difference, we must dare to ask honest questions and be willing to hear the answers. Evaluation is key to making sure our programs and industry are the best they can be, and helping the wider community to understand the value of educational experiences in the outdoors. This session will offer the opportunity to see a new approach and reflect on your organisation’s own program evaluation practices.

Becky grew up on Djabugay country in Far North Queensland. She works as a Quality Assurance Coordinator for a large outdoor education organisation, where she uses technology to manage program evaluations and support staff development for a large team. She studied a BSc (Hons) at the University of Queensland and University of Wollongong, with a major in psychology and a primary teaching diploma. Becky is a member of the AABAT committee.

About OEA and Outdoors NSW

Outdoor Education Australia (OEA)  was established in 2006 as a national network of outdoor education associations. The organisation facilitates communication between state and territory outdoor education associations about the practice and delivery of outdoor education; advocates for outdoor education across primary, secondary and tertiary education; and provides policy advice.

Outdoors NSW is the go-to place for all things outdoors in NSW.

The peak body for the outdoors in NSW, the organisation, (formerly known as ORIC), represents the outdoor community, advances outdoor standards, safety and practices, and fosters greater participation in the outdoors.

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