The next phase of the assessment process is the development of assessments that appropriately measure what they purport to measure in ways that are in keeping with the nature of the learning experience. The free-choice, self-directed nature of many informal learning experiences makes the development of such assessment measures difficult. Assessment measures need to be collected in ways that do not violate the experience itself. Embedded or authentic assessments may most appropriately document science learning from informal experiences.
Although much progress has been made in understanding how to conduct assessments and interpret data gleaned from the process, more work needs to be done. By continuing to build consensus about the best way to perform assessments, it will become easier to develop effective ways to document the learning that occurs in a wide range of informal science settings.
To apply the ideas presented in this chapter to informal settings, consider the following:
Is there a clear link between planning and assessment? Evaluators are realizing the importance of connecting the planning process to evaluation goals. Has this idea gained traction in your setting? Do you see ways to link the two processes? Do you align the kinds of data you collect with your goals?
Consider whether you have defined appropriate goals, outcomes, and indicators that guide assessment. Are these goals appropriate for the experience? Are you aiming too high (“increase science literacy in the United States through interpretive walks in our arboretum”) or too low (“the 3-week biodiversity trip to Costa Rica’s main nature preserves will increase awareness for the need to protect local resources”)? Are goals defined in ways that capture the breadth and depth of learning outcomes for all important audiences?
Consider unintended outcomes. Assessment can focus on clearly defined outcomes, but in informal settings there are often far more outcomes than can be programmed for or can be assessed. Do you have a full understanding of the learning benefits that your audiences or participants derive? Talk to your participants or your audiences about the way they see themselves benefiting from