by Svitlana Frunchak
Throughout the past academic year, focus groups were my favorite assessment activity. In comparison with surveys – especially the long annual ones that tend to take much time to design and even more to analyze – I found focus groups comparatively less time consuming and very rewarding. For sure, focus groups cannot substitute for surveys, but they can complement surveys in two important ways: by providing more in-depth qualitative data and by allowing us to dig deeper into themes and issues we find interesting. Most importantly, I find focus groups to be useful tools for designing and improving surveys. I have used them to probe different questions, to collect students’ ideas to include in drop-down lists of answers to choose from, and to come up with more student-friendly and clear vocabulary for survey questions.
So far, my favorite style of organizing a focus group is the “Four-Question Sequence.” Its main idea is to use open-ended questions to explore, discover, and expand. Then, we dig beyond top-of-the-mind answers by using the four-question sequence.
So, a sample Four-Question Sequence structure looks like this:
You start with a main question and listen for its answer.
Then you follow up and inquire about the answer.
Then you probe to clarify.
And, if necessary, you prompt. A prompt is a cue or aide.
A couple of helpful resources for planning a focus group:
Svitlana Frunchak works as an Exchange Officer, Partnerships, Assessment, and Special Initiatives. Svitlana is also a member of the Student Life Learning Outcomes and Assessment Committee