Using evaluation to prove or to improve? An international, mixed-method investigation into zoos' formal education evaluation practices.
This study was a mixed-method investigation into zoos’ education evaluation practices. The first phase of the research involved an online questionnaire in which 176 zoos across 48 countries reported their evaluation practices. The second phase comprised nine case studies, enabling direct, in-depth observation of each site within its context, including face-to-face zoo education staff interviews. Taken together, the two phases of this research offer a revealing analysis of current evaluation practice within zoos. The research indicates that zoo education staff understand evaluation and its application within formal zoo education programmes. However, zoo staff noted several barriers to regular evaluation including time, cost and know-how. The majority of case study zoos indicated that their education programmes are guided primarily by school curriculum to be attractive to teachers and link with student learning. The research also suggests that educational programme evaluations in zoos focus mostly on participant satisfaction to ensure teacher expectations are met; educational outcomes for students are rarely addressed. Rather, informal measures including observations and anecdotes are heavily utilised within zoos across all regions, and zoos noted that information gained through formal satisfaction surveys and more informal evaluation processes was used to inform current and future programmes. School return visits and participation rates were also considered important indicators of programme success. However, whilst some case study sites had conducted formal satisfaction surveys, the results had not been analysed or utilised for programme revision or development. Thus, whilst there is a general understanding of evaluation, a strong focus on visitor satisfaction and participation seems to dominate evaluation practice within zoos. There seemed to be little evaluation focused on programme success in terms of the extent to which educational goals are achieved. The implications of these findings and suggestions for future research are discussed.
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