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David Williams Explores Formal vs. Informal Evaluation

David Williams

People perform evaluations constantly; whether choosing what to eat, what to watch, or whom to spend time with, individuals evaluate options and make judgments. David Williams, a professor in the McKay School’s Department of Instructional Psychology and Technology, explains how these informal evaluations shape our lives. Intrigued by the use of evaluation, Williams studies two categories: formal and informal.

Formal evaluation involves formally identifying different aspects involved with evaluations, such as stakeholders and evaluand (what is being evaluated). Williams explains that informal evaluation, where we simply weigh options and decide, is much more prevalent in our daily lives. He states that one of the reasons we do not do more evaluations formally is because of the number of evaluations we undertake. “How could we take the time to formalize them?” he asks.

Although most of our everyday evaluations are informal, Williams believes that a better understanding of these evaluations could enhance them. “That enables us to decide whether to formalize an evaluation,” Williams says. To explore this idea, Williams has organized research with students to analyze works of literature in terms of evaluation. “We tried to explore what was going on in the literature that falls into the framework of evaluation, both formal and informal,” he explains.

Williams and his students analyzed Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, identifying criteria that book characters use to evaluate people, including name, speech, and appearance. “Dickens was teaching us that one thing that is wrong with the way most people do informal evaluation is that they use very superficial criteria,” Williams asserts. “The more important things he teaches us to focus on are what people are willing to go through for others, their dependability, etc.” Through analyzing the book, Williams explains, we learn better ways to perform our informal evaluations. This research was featured at the McKay School’s recent Mentored Research Conference. [LINK]

Williams is determining the best way to share his ideas on evaluation. He is considering sharing with literary critics as well as formal evaluators, among others, to see if they would be interested in seeing how works of literary art may teach us about ways we can enhance evaluations involved in our lives. “You could say that works of art have been teaching us to be better evaluators,” Williams explained.

13 July 2009