Cooking skills blog 25: Finding out if your cooking skills courses are ‘working’: Guest blog by Jacqui McDowell: ‘The confidence conundrum’

This week, my colleague Jacqui McDowell gives her views on the challenges (and possible solutions) to measuring confidence:

‘If I could, I’d ban people from using the word confidence in the context of cooking classes. Extreme – probably, wrong – I’ll let you decide.

Confidence is a tricky thing to measure and assess accurately, whether judging your own or that of someone else. Carol Craig, of the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing, in her book Creating Confidence defines it as a combination of self-efficacy and optimism.  And it is different from the more internal emotional feeling someone has about their self-worth or self-esteem. For all of these concepts there are validated scales to gather self-reported data, but before you rush off to search the net, let’s pause for a minute.  Is it confidence that we are assessing in cooking classes?  What evidence should we expect, or hope, to gather from self-reporting tools like questionnaires or observations during the sessions?

The “Cookwell” validated questionnaire, (which some in our cooking skills study group are using variations of) asks participants to rate themselves on a 7 point scale to questions worded “How confident do you feel about X?”.  The wording is important and more nuanced than you may realise.  It is interrogating an individual’s belief in their ability to do the task or action X stated at the end of the question.  And there are a couple of wrinkles here, first they have to understand what the task or action is (the same way as we do) and secondly they don’t necessarily have to have done (or intend to do) the task or action to assess their belief in their ability to do it.   All too philosophical?  Perhaps. I can hear some saying “our participants complete these questions quickly so they aren’t picking up on these subtleties”.   And that is my point: What are they really answering? How are you decoding it? So what is it really telling you?

Observation has its challenges too, if someone speaks up in a cooking class, does this mean they are confident?  And can you claim it as a success if someone says little at the start and two weeks later is chatting away?  Speaking up may be a positive result, but it may also just be that they have an outgoing personality or are fitting in with the norms in the group.  Also how do we really interpret the content of what people say?  Is a “yippee I can do it” over an unburnt omelette being equated to confidence, happiness, or wry relief?  Are statements like “I could do this again” translated as one-off instances of confidence to cook an item, enduring changes in cooking skills or an intention to make the item again?

So to me confidence is a bit of a conundrum in the context of cooking classes, whether personal or in relation to cooking, accurately assessing or measuring the degree of change is a toughie. When a practitioner says they have improved a participant’s confidence or confidence to cook, I’d like a lot more clarification of what this really means, the extent of change and how they know.  Instead of opening the can of worms that is measuring changes in confidence it could be a lot simpler to concentrate on tangible outcomes that can be quickly and easily tested and assessed at pre, post and follow up, around knowledge and skills (such as ability to follow or adapt a recipe, knife skills etc.)   But others may disagree and hold fast to the assertion that of course folk gain confidence, they have the photos of folk with big smiles to prove it……

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