Over the past few months, we’ve been working with Imperial College London and to evaluate their CELL schools project. Evaluating CELL proved to be a great example of how valuable observation techniques are with younger audiences.

CELL is an exploration of human cells through intricate dance choreography. Teaching microbiology to Key Stage 2 pupils through the medium of dance allows them to visualise these scientific concepts. Our role was to evaluate the programme, focusing on how pupils engaged with CELL and any impacts on their perceptions, interest and understanding of STEM.

As the performance element of CELL is at the centre of the programme, one of our challenges was to look at how we could evaluate pupils’ reactions to this more abstract approach to STEM learning.

Evaluating through observation

While surveys and focus groups helped us to investigate students’ levels of engagement, we also evaluated through observations. Observation helped the collection of organic responses to the performance in real-time, as opposed to other evaluation formats that are reflective in nature. This was one of the more challenging aspects of the evaluation.

We had to establish what it meant for a pupil to be engaged with the performance. It was also essential to ensure consistency in the observation across the various performances.

We created an observation framework to guide our notes. We took into account the types of interactions that the pupils might have in a performance setting, such as talking amongst themselves, looking around to gauge the interactions of others, or having questions at the end of the performance. We wanted to ensure that with every school group, we could get a sense of their feelings towards the idea of teaching STEM through dance before, during and after the performance.

The guide we created was organised into four key sections:

  • the amount of time that the children were actively engaging with watching the performance,
  • any interactions they had during the performance,
  • comments on those interactions,
  • and finally any notes on how their interaction with the space changed throughout the performance.

Having this framework for the observation made working across several performances consistent – we knew exactly what we needed to look out for and had a clear understanding of what ‘engagement’ meant in this context. CELL was certainly able to capture their interest, teaching an abstract STEM topic through an accessible approach.

Top tips for evaluating through observation

  • Establish the types of interaction you want to record.

  • Try to have at least two of you observing – two pairs of eyes are better than one if this case.

  • Listen to as many people as possible – just small comments from others engaging in the project can add context to your evaluation.

  • Immerse yourself in the audience rather than the performance – don't be afraid to move around as necessary to listen to different groups.

  • Be flexible - people might not interact the way you anticipated, so ensure your framework allows you to capture unexpected outcome and behaviours.

More Top Tips about how to navigate your data, plan your projects and utilise our resources

Written by Anya Chappell, Junior Consultant.

Featured in the August edition of The Learning Diaries. Aimed at those working in learning, engagement or participation in the cultural sector, this newsletter will share updates from our team on sector events, ideas from some of our projects and links to new research. To receive The Learning Diaries, visit the sign up page.