|Methodology: Why Use Student-led Focus Groups||Student-Led Focus Groups at UA Little Rock||How Would I Plan Such a Project?|
In March 2019, a team of 4 persons (two faculty members, and two students) from UA Little Rock went to Missouri State University to participate in a nationally-led workshop on “Using Student-Led Focus Groups to Support Assessment,” sponsored by the Center of Inquiry at Wabash College. They came back ready to use this methodology in assessing student learning in co-curricular areas. We believe this methodology also has potential for curricular areas as well. This document explains what this methodology is, and provides a template for both curricular and co-curricular areas to use if they choose to explore this methodology for assessment purposes.
Methodology: Why Use Student-Led Focus Groups
According to the Center of Inquiry (2019):
Focus groups can help us gather new evidence and answer questions with more detail and nuance than we might get from a survey. Focus groups can also be a useful way to supplement quantitative assessment data we already have. Focus groups allow us to dig into the mechanisms behind the patterns we see in quantitative data to get at the “why” and “how.”
Why involve students in this work? Having students lead and help analyze focus group conversations can make conversations even more useful for several reasons. First, students are more likely to talk openly about sensitive issues with their peers than with faculty or staff. Student focus group leaders may also have a better sense of student culture than faculty or staff and have a better idea of how best to probe to ask useful questions. Finally, student focus group leaders may better understand when focus groups conversations are authentic and how to push harder if they are not.
Working with students doesn’t just help you gather better data; it also benefits the students who engage in this work. Learning how to conduct focus groups, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting the results to stakeholders on campus can be a powerful educational experience for student focus group leaders. Faculty and their student focus group leaders often treat the work as a form of undergraduate research. Some student focus group leaders also report being more invested in their education as a result of this experience. Finally, many students who participate in focus groups as interviewees say they appreciate the opportunity to share their thoughts and reflect on their educational experience. (https://centerofinquiry.org/workshop-on-using-student-led-focus-groups-to-support-assessment/#1557178483488-dcf7d0e7-dd9f; para. 3-5)
Others who have used such a methodology talk about the benefits of this to their own institutions. For example, Nicholas Truncale, an Assessment Fellow and Director of the University Assessment Scholars program at the University of Scranton, said this about his work with student-led focus groups (https://centerofinquiry.org/workshop-on-using-student-led-focus-groups-to-support-assessment/#1557178483488-dcf7d0e7-dd9f)”
The University of Scranton greatly benefited from implementing a Student Assessment Scholars program. Our program provides indirect evidence and qualitative assessment data to stakeholders on campus, which ultimately led to university-wide improvements. The data allows stakeholders to undergo reflection and discernment, both of which are integral to the Jesuit educational paradigm and allows them to make informed decisions. This program also contributes to building a culture of evidence-driven improvement on our campus. Students are able to see their perspectives being incorporated into the university decision-making process. Our student scholars credit the program with improvements in their report writing, project and time management, critical thinking, teamwork, leadership skills, and adding something unique to their skill sets.
See the National Institute of Learning Outcomes Assessment for more information about the University of Scranton’s Assessment Scholars program.
For another example, see information about the Wabash-Provost Scholars program at North Carolina A&T State University.
Student-Led Focus Groups at UA Little Rock
The first student-led focus group project at UA Little Rock is being done by the Ottenheimer Library at ualr.edu/library/about/assessment.
Louise Lowe, of the Ottenheimer Library, and the library’s Assessment Team, are working with Dr. Kristen McIntyre, in the Communication Skill Center (CSC), to train students to lead their focus groups. McIntyre will be using the resources of the CSC to bring this type of methodology to other units on campus who might be interested.
If you are interested in using a student-led focus group for curricular or co-curricular assessment purposes, please contact Dr. Kristen McIntyre at email@example.com or Dr. April Chatham-Carpenter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on how a student-led focus group is being used at UA Little Rock, contact Louise Lowe at email@example.com.
How Would I Plan Such a Project?
In order to plan for a project like this, these are the questions you would need to get ready to answer. Dr. McIntyre and Dr. Chatham-Carpenter could help you work through your answers to these questions if needed.
- What are the assessment issues you would like the focus group conversations to help you address? List, in order of priority, these issues. If you are interested in more than one issue, please list the issues in order of their priority.
- Why is the issue/s you want to study important? Did you develop this topic on your own, or are you supporting the work of other groups on campus?
- What individuals or groups on campus play a role or have a stake in your topic? Is your topic contested or controversial for some groups on campus? If so, please describe how.
- Has anyone on campus collected data relevant to the questions that you’d like to address with your focus groups? If you’re not sure, who would you ask to find out?
- How many focus groups do you plan to run and how large would you like each group to be?
- How will you recruit students for the focus groups?
- How many students will you need to support your focus group work and what will their roles be? Are you going to recruit students who are not at this workshop? If so, how do you plan to do this?
- What staff and faculty will be involved in this project and what will their roles be?
- When do you plan to host these focus groups?
- How will you train students to engage in their various roles in this project?
- What questions would you like to ask in your focus groups? Develop the first draft of questions for your focus groups. Include an ice breaker/introductory question, key questions to get at your topic, and a closing question.
- What would your communication plan be for your project? Who else on campus needs to know about this project right now? Consider people who might be able to help you move the project forward or work through obstacles you might encounter. With whom will you share the goals, progress, and results of your work? How will you share what you learn from this project with other people/groups on campus?
- What challenges do you anticipate as you implement this plan and how might you work through them?
- What resources do you need to implement this project, and how can you obtain them?
- What would a realistic timeline be for your work on this project?