Sponsored by the Center of Inquiry and the Center for Teaching and Learning at Southern New Hampshire University
November 2-3, 2019 | Southern New Hampshire University, Hooksett, NH
When we assess student learning, we often overlook potential partners—our students. Students have the skills and perspectives to advance our efforts in many ways. One effective way of enlisting students to support assessment is through student-led focus groups. Across the country, faculty, staff, and students have worked together in co-inquiry teams to develop and run student-led student focus groups to gather critical assessment evidence, analyze the data, and present the results to campus stakeholders in a way that fosters community conversations and action.
On November 2-3, 2019, 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:
- 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.
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 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.
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.
Since 2008, the Center of Inquiry has held nine workshops to train students to conduct focus groups with their peers. We have helped teams from 50 institutions train students to conduct focus groups with their peers to dig into, or gather new, assessment evidence. See what past participants have said about these workshops.
Students from the Inquiry Scholars Collaborative at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and experienced student focus group leaders from Lasell College will help lead the workshop on November 2-3. 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.
After attending this workshop in fall 2018, the Lasell College students succeeded in: gathering data from over 180 student participants in student-led focus groups; analyzing that data; and presenting key findings to numerous campus constituencies, including almost all the key stakeholders. They are excited to share their experiences and knowledge with the next group of workshop attendees.
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. You do not need to know the names of all your team members to register for the workshop.
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 students, faculty, and staff 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 October 18, 2019 or until we reach capacity. If you have any questions about the workshop, please contact Kathy Wise at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The workshop begins at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 2th and ends at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 3rd.
Workshop sessions will include:
- Training sessions 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 their focus group plans and get feedback from workshop participants.
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.
The registration fee is $250 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. Teams from HEDS member institutions receive a 20% discount on the registration fee. You should register as soon as you have confirmed you will send a team to reserve your place. Again, you do NOT have to know the names of your entire team to register.
Please make your own lodging and travel arrangements, including transportation from the hotel to campus and back.
We have a small block of rooms reserved at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Hooksett, NH. The rate is $119 for rooms with one king bed or $129 for rooms with two queen beds. Reservations must be made by October 1, 2019, 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. We recommend that you make a reservation as soon as possible.
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.
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.
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.
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.