Bronwen McCann on Collaborative Program Evaluation and Community-Engagement

July 03, 2019

Bronwen McCann is a Master’s student in the Arts Education program. She is passionate about early childhood education, in particular, curriculum development that bridges the divide between arts and outdoor education.

In addition to juggling a full course load, she has been working at the Research Hub and has been involved in two different projects in collaboration with partnerships and programs through the SFU Surrey-TD Community Engagement Centre. The most recent of which was a program evaluation for an Early Learning Foundations (ELF) drop-in program.

What got you interested in arts and outdoor education?

My father is a professor in ecology while my mother is a musician.  I think my upbringing helped me see a very natural integration between the arts and sciences.  However, growing up I felt like I was not understood by the education system which was highly structured and disconnected by subject areas.

My undergraduate was in philosophy and I became very interested in practical philosophy. I began to see both a challenge and opportunity to synthesize ways of seeing the world and how we learn. This is why I enrolled in the Master’s of Arts Education program at SFU. My dream is to be able to one day create my own curriculum for a school that bridges outdoor and arts education.

Can you tell us about the program evaluation work you did for the ELF program at Surrey Central City Shopping Centre?

In the Fall of 2018, Rachel Nelson from the Office of Community Engagement at SFU, reached out to the Research Hub as a partner to conduct an evaluation of the ELF Program at Surrey Central City on the behest of the key stakeholders.

The program is currently administered by two paid facilitators, one from the Surrey School District Early Learning Center and another from DIVERSEcity, a non-profit that supports immigrant families.  On any given day, there are also 2-4 volunteers from SFU’s Faculty of Education. This unique program is a collaboration between the Mall, the Surrey School District and SFU.

How will this evaluation project inform the three main stakeholders and help them make decisions about the program?

I think the results of this evaluation will help inform the future of the program and how it can evolve.  Specifically, the data should help decision makers think about resourcing including facilitators, new toys, schedules and other operating parameters.

Each stakeholder had an opportunity to contribute questions that they wanted answered which were worked into the evaluation framework and the design of the instruments.  The final report will help quantify the many benefits of the program while also providing a voice to the participant families.

What have been some surprising findings for you?

When I first began the project, I was surprised that the Mall was selected as the location for such a drop-in program.  However, as I started interviewing the families, many of whom are immigrants, I started to see that the Mall was actually a very comfortable and welcoming space for them, even more so than a Community Center.

I was also surprised at the many unexpected benefits of the program that extended beyond early learning for the children and families. The program also had a lot of community benefits for young families who would otherwise be without a lot of other support. Many of the participants also cited the lasting relationships with the coordinators and other families as a benefit of the program, which was something that we did not originally expect.

How would you summarize your experience and your learning working on this project?

Community-based research feels intuitive and is a way that I see bridging the divide between academia and the world. Whether it’s this evaluation project or other types of community engaged research, it is exciting to be able to see firsthand how research can be practical with a direct relationship to what people do and care about.

Based on my experience with this project I think there is a great opportunity for SFU to engage the community through services like evaluation and small defined research projects.  I have come to see how many organizations, be it non-profits or businesses, have a need for third party assistance with data collection and evaluation of their projects.  This is an area that they will typically not have the resources to do themselves.  There is also an added benefit of both perceived and actual neutrality of a study and report created by an external party.

This project has helped me see how evaluation services are a great way for the SFU Research HUB and the Faculty of Education to engage the community at large.

What’s next for you?

Working on this collaborative program evaluation has been a great opportunity to learn about multi-stakeholder environments. Being a Research Assistant with the Research Hub has been a very valuable learning experience for me and provided exposure to conducting research in a complex stakeholder environment.

In addition to continuing to work on my Masters, I also plan to be certified as a Waldorf teacher.  I am passionate about curriculum development and looking at ways to integrate outdoor and arts education for grades K-8.  My hope is to work this into my Master’s research and maybe a PhD in the near future.