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Evaluation is often an area that is over-looked. It may be considered too expensive, staff may not feel they have the skills to undertake it or perhaps it is considered as being of little value. However, as educators, is there any point on carrying on developing and presenting education programmes, designing interpretative signs and communicating with the general public unless we know that we are being effective in achieving our objectives?The articles below cover some of the different types and levels of evaluation that can be used, different techniques, the use of evaluation to assess whether training has met its objectives and case studies of using evaluation.

Evaluation can be threatening to people as it can produce results that reveal that our objectives are not being met, and that our programmes or communication techniques are not as effective as we initially thought. However, we need to consider evaluation as a positive planning and learning tool that assists us in modifying and improving our communication techniques to achieve our objectives.

(Adapted from Sutherland, L. (2000), Roots 21, editorial, p 2 - 3).

Evaluation in Botanic Gardens - Luxury or Necessity?

Evaluation answers questions such as ‘What about ....?’, ‘What would happen if ...?’ , ‘Would this work?’ and ‘How can we make this better?’. Most importantly, the results from evaluation provide the answer to the most important question of all, ‘If we don’t know where we’ve been and where we’re going, how will we know when we get there?’. The challenge for botanic gardens is to find the best evaluation technique for the specific situation and whatever the budget, whatever the situation, don’t just think about evaluation – do it!

Evaluation Gets Results!

In this paper, the results and consequences of a comprehensive evaluation of the Natural Science Institute for Elementary Teachers at the Missouri Botanical Garden are described. This teacher training project utilised a combination of formative and summative evaluations, science knowledge pre- and post-tests, surveys, personal interviews, and activity logs to evaluate the four objectives of the project and to answer a series of specific questions. The evaluation lead to additional funding for teacher training programmes, and to fundamental changes in the nature of teacher training programmes at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Killer Plants and the Big Smelly Tree

Our first impressions of a botanic garden, the journey we make through it, how this is negotiated, who we make this journey with and how we record it, are key factors in how we relate to the botanic garden and the plants within it. This study involved three different primary schools visiting the Chelsea Physic Garden. After their visit,each child in the class worked on post visit(s) recording sheets, which encouraged both written and illustrated responses. The recording sheets incorporated a wide range of questions focusing on aspects of their visit(s) to the garden and the nurturing of plants at home. This article considers responses to the questions: which plants did the children remember from their visit(s)?; what was their favourite plant? and why?

Improving on Previous Best - Prompts for Self-Review

The draft checklists in this article have been devised to help botanic garden staff reflect on their environmental policies and practices. Policies and practices in any one garden are likely to be a mixture of all levels and the process should ensure some lively debate. By providing statements at clearly defined levels it is easy to identify starting points as benchmarks, enabling gardens to set challenging but realistic targets. The democratic process of using the prompt sheets with staff can contribute towards improving communication and motivation and hopefully the process will provide a shared understanding of common values, an expectation of progress and a commitment to 'improve on previous best'.

Evaluar Antes de Actuar

La evaluacion es un componente importante del programa educativo en el jardin botanico de la Universidad de Valencia. Las encuestas, antes y despues de las visitas se utilizan para investigar el nivel de comprension por los visitantes de la interpretacion en el Jardin. El Jardin tambien trabaja con los profesores y los estudiantes para evaluar el conocimiento y las necesidades de los colegios que logren la utilisazion del jardin como un recurso para la ensenanza. Esta evaluacion de primera linea se utiliza tambien como herramienta para desarollar las exposiciones. De esta manera, determinando el tipo de audiencia a las que dirigir las exposiciones y el nivel de conocimiento de la misma sobre ciertos conceptos, el Jardin ha podido desarrollar y lanzar una exposicion llamada ‘Plantas del Futuro’ que ha sido de gran exito.

Environmental Ambassadors for Conservation

During the past two years, the Botanic Garden of the Biology Institute of the Autonomous University of Mexico has supported a pilot programme, in collaboration with the Public Secretary of Education, to train a group of primary children in environmental themes and the protection of nature. These children are known as Environmental Ambassadors. Evaluation of the pilot programme has revealed that children can be key people in awareness raising and the dissemination of information for the conservation of natural resources.

Why Conduct Research in Environmental Education?

At a global level, debate and activity in the field of environmental education is indeed healthy; yet there remain numerous ongoing issues to resolve and serious challenges ahead. Despite the optimistic tone adopted, quite rightly, by many environmental educators, it is nevertheless clear that education is far from realising its maximum potential in terms of helping people understand and appreciate the environment and their role as producers and consumers within it. This brief article focuses on one of these many challenges recognised around the world, namely the need to increase the environmental education research base and broaden approaches to research in this field.

A Researcher's Eye View of the ECoSA pan-African Research Program

The Education and Communication for Sustainability in Africa (ECoSA) survey was implemented by the UK-based International Centre for Conservation Education (ICCE) on behalf of the European Union.Two distinct products were to be provided:

  • a report which would provide an overall picture of the state of environmental education in Africa against which future priorities could be determined
  • a user friendly database of organisations involved in the provision of EE in Africa.

Field Trips and Follow-up Activities

Field trips offered to school children are a key component of public garden educational programming. Investigations involving living museums have occurred for decades, supporting the use of field trips as educational activities. Programs that have been most successful are those that incorporate three critical elements as defined by researchers of museum education: pre-visit planning, pre-visit preparation, and object-oriented activities (Farmer 1993). Bitgood reported that "a high percentage of teachers also use follow-up activities" (1989). However, very few investigations have addressed the effectiveness of follow-up activities as a part of effective field trips. This article aims to do so.

Evaluation and Research; the Key to Support

The funding of botanic garden operations is a major issue in today's economic climate. At times, it is visitor, interpretive and educational services that are "trimmed" when the budget is effected. This is often due to a lack of understanding by decision makers as to the role, importance and value of these services. Management agencies need to understand the visitor and see the botanic gardens through their eyes. A better understanding of visitors' expectations and motivations assists in ensuring community use, support and allocation of funds by being able to develop the garden's services. To deal with economic rationalisation and "cuts", botanic garden educators and interpreters need to use evaluation and research techniques to their own advantage, as well as for the benefit of the community, the gardens and their visitors.