Beginning this fall, those interested in pursuing a master’s degree in research methods, measurement, and evaluation (RMME) within the Neag School’s educational psychology department will have the choice to study either in person at the UConn Storrs campus — or from anywhere in the world. The new fully online program is the first of its kind at the Neag School.
Betsy McCoach, a professor in RMME, presented the proposal for the new program in hopes that the offering would allow nontraditional students to pursue the degree.
“There are people who live hours from any university that would offer a program like this, and people who have full-time jobs who don’t want to leave their jobs to pursue a master’s degree for a year or a year and a half,” says McCoach. “For some people, doing an online master’s is really the only viable way to do the program.”
The RMME program is designed for educators and practitioners who wish to become more knowledgeable about measurement, evaluation, and assessment practices in schools and other formal or informal educational settings. Chris Rhoads, coordinator for the RMME program and associate professor, says he believes the online program will appeal to those interested in making changes in the education system but who are not able to commit to the full-time, on-campus experience in Storrs.
“The audience for this program could include folks who have worked as teachers and are now interested in moving into a somewhat different role, maybe in a research office in a larger school district, or maybe they want to build research, data analysis, and evaluation skills in order to build partnerships with foundations or other civic organizations,” says Rhoads.
Although housed in the Neag School, the online program is expected to appeal to those from professions outside of education as well. McCoach says she anticipates individuals from nonprofit and nongovernmental agencies will be interested in this degree, as they are required to perform tasks such as designing surveys and collecting and analyzing data. Ensuring that students graduate with these competencies is a key component of the RMME master’s degree program.
“For some people, doing an online master’s is really the only viable way to do the program.”
— Professor D. Betsy McCoach
While universities across the country offer similar degree programs, McCoach and Rhoads say the online master’s in RMME sets itself apart by being located at a Research I institution with high-quality, diverse, and research-active faculty.
“We have prominent experts doing cutting-edge research in the three areas of research methods, measurement, and evaluation, and our programming reflects that,” says Rhoads. “Getting this degree would allow individuals to gain access to that expertise.”
The program also includes an optional evaluation practicum experience, in which students can participate if they wish to gain firsthand research experience under the guidance of a professor. Similar to an internship or an apprenticeship, the professor will help match the student with an evaluation client with whom they will work over the course of the practicum, or help the student conceptualize an evaluation project of his or her own.
“We find it a very useful way for students to get a foot in the job market in what we do,” Rhoads says.
The degree has a unique feature in that its credit requirements include classes that are also part of UConn’s 12-credit online graduate certificate in program evaluation. The four courses required for the certificate also count as credits toward the master’s degree; therefore, students have the opportunity to obtain the certificate and the master’s degree simultaneously.
“For people who have received the program evaluation certificate, if they want to go further and actually get a master’s, they are almost halfway there,” says McCoach. “They’ve taken four classes; they only need six more to get the master’s.”
A Shift Toward Evidence-Based Research in Education
According to Rhoads, ensuring that educational interventions are evidence-based has become crucial for educators and school administrators, and the RMME degree prepares students to understand the building blocks needed to evaluate educational effectiveness.
“You can’t make a determination of effectiveness unless you understand how to evaluate, how to interpret data, and how to tell whether tests that you give are appropriate for the questions you want to answer,” says Rhoads. “Those are the things that our graduates are well equipped to understand, and so they’re going to be able to inform school districts and other places … [about] how to build the evidence necessary to make our education system function better.”
Rhoads cites the recent federal Every Student Succeeds Act as an example in the shift toward evidence-based research in education. For certain interventions to be paid for using Title I funds, there must be some basis in research that shows the program to which funds are being allocated is effective.
The courses offered through the RMME master’s degree program teach four broad competencies:
- Research Methodology: designing a study, understanding the methods appropriate for answering different research questions, and implementing and executing a research study
- Data Analysis: running data analyses, making sense of data, and writing up and interpreting results
- Measurement: Understanding how to measure attributes of individuals that are not as easily captured as quantities like height and weight; for instance, creativity, or achievement
- Program Evaluation: using appropriate methodological, data analysis, and measurement techniques in the service of evaluating the effectiveness of given programs
Upon completing a master’s in RMME, grads of the on-campus as well as the online program are expected to be thoughtful users of data with the ability to inform policy in many education and social science fields.
“My experience is, if you can actually do those things and do them competently,” McCoach says, “people will hire you because that’s a really good set of skills to have in so many areas — not just in education, but in nonprofits and even in businesses.”