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Julia Smith

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My Fellowship project develops my own personal work on evaluation and creativity, and builds on my experience producing publicly funded creative projects in a range of education settings. Having, for years, had to report to committees and funders I've developed a particular interest in the rigour which is applied to the process and the usefulness of the end product, and the potential and actual capacity it is afforded for effecting change into the fututre - whatever direction that might take.


Formative Evaluation of the Opportunities Gateway at YSJU


Increasingly universities are developing the ways in which they offer extra curricular opportunities to their students, and indeed, the types of opportunities available. September 2009 will see the launch of the Opportunities Gateway at York St John University, both virtual and physical space developed to enable students to access a range of experiences, in summary; work experience and volunteering, international study and flexible learning courses. The Opportunities Gateway is a manifestation of the university’s aspiration to encourage culture change for all students, taking them to a position of ‘learning to: perform / participate / make-sense / be’. These learning goals are derived from Activity Theory, and have become the focus around which the Opportunities Gateway and the wider university culture are beginning to orientate.

This project proposes to deliver a formative programme evaluation of the first year of the Opportunities Gateway. The evaluation would be undertaken as part of institutional research into changing cultures and the resulting policy implications for supporting a more diverse student population to gain a position of ‘readiness for opportunity’.


The evaluation would take a stakeholder model that puts the student experiences of accessing the Opportunities Gateway and its ability to enable them to enhance their wider learning goals at the centre. Taking the four key words, ‘perform / participate / make-sense / be’, as foci for the interrogation of data which would be gathered from students and staff, (both those working directly on the Opportunities Gateway provision and those at Executive and Subject Head level).

The process would include focus group and semi-structured interview work.


The Opportunities Gateway is one particular reality of the model for supporting extra and intra curricular experiences for students, there are others at other institutions with similarities. This evaluation, although focused on the one institution, will be evaluating on the nature of enhanced student experience through engagement with these supporting mechanisms and will therefore be of relevance to others; either as reflective data with which to compare their own, or as experiential information if they are themselves in the early states of establishing their own opportunities mechanism. The evaluative process itself will provide a theoretically underpinned model with a set of methods that others could potentially adapt to their local evaluation needs.  To further the sharing of the project’s findings a key outcomes will be; at national level, as a minimum, the submission of a paper to the Institutional Research Conference 2010, and more locally, the circulation of report information through Higher York, the Life Long Learning Network for York and North Yorkshire.


As a self-nominated ‘learning organisation’, YSJU is in the process of developing a focused institutional research network, more clearly profiling the work and associated learning developed through a range of project initiatives, both institution and faculty based. This evaluation would feed directly into a growing evidence base for this network, providing early stage data on a significant investment in enhancing the student experience.

YSJU has recently taken the Learning Reconsidered[ii] model as a starting point for developing a transformative student experience on campus, the stated intentions of which include an advocacy for the concept that sees every social situation as a learning opportunity. A mechanism such as the Opportunities Gateway is clearly one approach to supporting this. However understanding how this might work in practice is a contribution to the debate that this project can provide.



[i] Shufflebeam, D. and Shinkfield, A. (2007) Evaluation Theory, Models and Applications,

[ii]Learning Reconsidered: A Campus-Wide Focus on the Student Experience, (2004) National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA)


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