Workshop on Using Student-Led Focus Groups to Gather and Make Sense of Assessment Evidence

Sponsored by the Center of Inquiry and the Center for Teaching and Learning at Southern New Hampshire University

 

October 6-7, 2018 | Southern New Hampshire University, Hooksett, NH

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 October 6-7, 2018, the Center of Inquiry and the Center for Teaching and Learning at Southern New Hampshire University 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Help institutional teams develop a plan for conducting student focus groups to gather and make sense of assessment evidence.
  • Anne Dueweke, Director of Grants, Fellowships, and Research at Kalamazoo College
    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.
    Anne Dueweke, Director of Grants, Fellowships, and Research at Kalamazoo College
  • Dennis Frey, Associate Professor of History at Lasell College
    We all found the workshop to be immensely helpful.  As noted by Professor Marisa Hastie, “the strategies, tools, and methods we learned at the workshop were modeled in such a way that they were easy to implement in an academic setting.”  For student Taylor Smith, the workshop provided “the skills on how to gather data, how to analyze and code the data that was collected in our research project.” Not only were the presentations and mock focus group exercises incredibly rich and helpful, but the team-time devoted to brainstorming and planning the project was also a wonderful aspect of the workshop.  In fact, having the goal of creating a plan and presenting it to the other participants at the conclusion of the workshop, kept our team focused and productive.  For student Evan Andrews having “time and space to solidify our plan at the workshop enabled us to not just execute that plan, but also to make sure we were on track to complete it once we got back to campus.”  As promised by the workshop facilitators student-led focus groups is perhaps the best one for capturing the authentic student voice.  We certainly discovered that to be the case with our project at Lasell.
    Dennis Frey, Associate Professor of History at Lasell College
  • Paula Haines, Director of Curriculum, Assessment,  & Accreditation at University of Massachusetts, Lowell
    The Center of Inquiry’s Student-Led Focus Groups workshop was more productive that we could have hoped.  One of UMass Lowell’s core principles is student-driven research and engagement, and, with our team of students, faculty, and staff, we were able to collaborate on exactly the kind of experience we most value.  We arrived knowing that we wanted to explore this strategy for evaluating a new program focused on supporting first-generation college students (the River Hawk Scholars Academy); the workshop provided the framework for us to develop our research question, generate focus group questions, and chart out our strategy for recruiting and training additional student facilitators back on campus.  Our students took ownership of this process during the workshop and never looked back.  They designed, planned, and executed training for four of their peers, and that team has now run our first two student-led focus groups.  The Center of Inquiry workshop empowered these students, and gave us confidence in their skills and in their findings.  We have already begun to look ahead at how to use what they’ve discovered, and to think about how we can use student-led focus groups to cultivate inquiry into student learning and the student experience.
    Paula Haines, Director of Curriculum, Assessment, & Accreditation at University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  • Nicholas P. Truncale, Assessment Fellow and Director of the Provost Assessment Scholars at the University of Scranton
    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.
    Nicholas P. Truncale, Assessment Fellow and Director of the Provost Assessment Scholars at the University of Scranton

Background

Since 2008, the Center of Inquiry has held seven 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. Students from the Inquiry Scholars Collaborative at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and Franklin Pierce University will help lead the workshop on October 6-7. The Inquiry Scholars have taken up a number of research projects aimed at improving student learning on their campuses. At SNHU, the Inquiry Scholars analyze institutional data (like NSSE results), run focus groups, and report findings to stakeholders. At Franklin Pierce University Inquiry Scholars calibrate and assess student work, communicating findings to stakeholders.

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.

 

Requirements

We suggest that institutions send four-person teams comprising two faculty 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 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.

 

Process

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 September 30, 2018 or until we reach capacity. If you have any questions about the workshop, please contact Kathy Wise at kathyswise@gmail.com.

  • Anne Dueweke, Director of Grants, Fellowships, and Research at Kalamazoo College
    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.
    Anne Dueweke, Director of Grants, Fellowships, and Research at Kalamazoo College

Agenda in Brief

The workshop begins at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 6th and ends at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 7th.

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.
  • Concluding session on working through common challenges in focus group projects.

 

Product

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.

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 the good work of colleagues.

 

Registration

The registration fee is $200 per person. This will include continental breakfast and lunch on Saturday and Sunday, dinner on Saturday, as well as coffee and beverages throughout each day.

 

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 the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Hooksett, NH. There is a two-night minimum for reservations. The rate is $159 for rooms with one king bed or $169 for rooms with two queen beds. Reservations must be made by September 15, 2018 to secure this rate. To receive the discounted rate, simply call the hotel directly at (603) 606-5485 and ask for the “Center of Inquiry/SNHU Workshop” room block. Please note this is a very busy time in the area and hotel rooms will be scarce. We recommend that you make a reservation as soon as possible.

Register today.

We need 5 institutions to register in order to run this workshop. Please register as soon as possible to reserve your place. We will not invoice you until we receive registration forms from 5 teams.