Sponsored by the Office of Assessment at Missouri State University and the Center of Inquiry
March 7-8, 2019 | Missouri State University, Springfield, MO
Have you ever puzzled over how students interpreted questions on a survey? Would you like to know how they are experiencing a recent curricular change? Would it help you to understand how students are approaching key assignments that you are using to assess general education outcomes?
When we try to make sense of assessment evidence, we often overlook a critical source of information—our students. Conversations with students in focus groups can aid our efforts to understand our assessment evidence. Focus groups allow us to dig into the mechanisms behind the patterns we see in quantitative assessment data. They get at the “why” and “how” behind our data. Focus groups can also help us gather new evidence and answer questions with more detail and nuance than we might get from a survey.
Having students lead and help analyze focus group conversations can make the 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.
On March 7-8, 2019, the Office of Assessment at Missouri State University and the Center of Inquiry will host a workshop to help assessment leaders, institutional researchers, faculty, staff, and students create and implement student-led focus groups to address institutional assessment questions. This workshop is designed to:
- Train students to conduct focus groups with their peers and get them ready to train additional students to support their work when they return to campus.
- Help institutional teams develop a plan for conducting student focus groups to gather and make sense of assessment evidence.
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.
Since 2008, the Center of Inquiry has held eight workshops to train students to conduct focus groups with their peers. We have helped teams from over 40 institutions train students to conduct focus groups with their peers to dig into, or gather new, assessment evidence.
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.
We suggest that institutions send four-person teams comprising two faculty members and/or staff and two students, all of whom will lead this project on campus. You can bring more than two students if you wish. At the minimum, institutional teams require one staff or faculty member and two students. At least two of the students on your team should be two or more years from graduating so that the lessons they learn this year will support your work next year.
We also ask that teams identify the issue that they want their focus group project to address prior to the workshop.
We design our workshops to serve as a retreat, a time and space for people to step back from the get-it-done-now pace of everyday work and reflect on, think about, and create plans in the company of supportive colleagues. We will help your team work through a planning template that we created based on our experience with successful, and unsuccessful, focus group and assessment projects at colleges and universities across the country. We will work with participants to help them develop and sharpen their focus group plans, including how they will share data from the focus groups with relevant people and groups on campus so that the data can be used to improve student learning and experience. We’ll also have opportunities for participants to share their plans and get feedback from one another.
To ensure that we can provide effective support to workshop participants, we keep our workshops small. We have room for 12 four-person teams at this workshop (2 faculty/staff and 2 students per team). We’ll accept registrations on a first-come, first-served basis until February 22, 2019, or until we reach capacity. If you have any questions about the workshop, please contact Kathy Wise at email@example.com.
This workshop was critical in helping us launch a series of student-led student focus group projects on our campus. These projects have been very well received by students, faculty, and staff, and have led to substantive institutional change that has improved the student experience.
Agenda in Brief
The workshop begins at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, March 7 and ends at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, March 8.
Workshop sessions will include:
- Informal presentations by each team about their institution and the goals of their focus group project.
- Training session on developing and running student-led focus groups. Topics will include: IRB approval, confidentiality and record keeping, recruiting participants and incentives, the role of faculty/staff leaders, the role of student researchers, forming and training student focus group teams, guidelines for writing questions and taking notes, tips for moderating focus groups, etc.
- Mock focus group training sessions.
- Time for teams to develop their focus group plans.
- Poster session in which teams present the final versions of their focus group plans.
The product of the workshop will be a detailed plan that people can share with institutional leaders and other critical constituencies at their institution and use to guide their work to implement their focus group projects.
Lasell College places a high priority on undergraduate student research, so we were eager to participate in the Center’s workshop on student-led focus groups. Two juniors joined our team, and we agreed that our focus groups would explore how our students understood academic challenge and rigor. During our time at the workshop, these two students outlined the problem, protocol, and process, and they had the chance to observe other student-led focus groups in action, and to role-play in mock focus groups themselves. We headed home with a definite idea of our next steps, fueled by the students’ emerging confidence and enthusiasm. Our students were well prepared for their leadership roles, including the challenges of encouraging participation and clarifying responses. Tabulating, analyzing, organizing, and presenting their results on campus and at regional conferences sharpened their analytic and public speaking skills, as well as their ability to adapt their message to specific audiences. The extended time with our team, the Center staff, and colleagues/student peers from other colleges was essential to completing our project successfully. As always, we appreciate the thoughtfulness, organization, and hospitality the Center staff provided and modeled.
After the Workshop
We’ll follow up with participants in the months after the workshop to see how things are going and help them implement, troubleshoot, and revise their focus group plans.
We see these workshops as a way to build a community of assessment practitioners and institutional change leaders—people who will continue to be resources for each other after the workshops end. We’re committed to developing ways to help support this extended community beyond the workshop. Even though our institutions are different, we share the same goals, and we can learn from and adapt to the good work of colleagues.
The registration fee is $250 per person. This will include continental breakfast and lunch on Thursday and Friday, dinner on Thursday, and coffee, beverages, and snacks throughout each day. You do not need to know the names of your entire team when you register. You can provide that information later.
Lodging and Transportation
Please make your own lodging and travel arrangements, including transportation from the hotel to campus and back.
We have a block of rooms reserved at Hotel Vandivort. Participants can book a “Modest King” or a “Humble Queen” room for $129 per night. To receive the discounted rate, call the hotel at (417) 832- 1515 and ask for the “MSU Office of Assessment” room block. The last day to make a reservation is February 28, 2019.