Saturday, April 09, 2011

Focus group?

I've been advised that the best way to collect useful feedback from the students in my genetics pilot course is to have a focus group.  This initially seemed like a great idea (book a room, order pizza, tell the students), but I'm gradually realizing that implementing it will be difficult.  Several issues need to be dealt with.

First, I don't even know what running a focus group involves.  I expect that the discussion would need to be coordinated, and some record of the discussion kept.  This might just be notes, but an audio or video recording would be better.  But if a recording was made, then someone would have to later go through the recording, pulling out the important information.  And if there's no recording, would the person who is coordinating the discussion also be able to take the notes, or would a separate note-taker be needed?   How much expertise is needed to coordinate the discussion - can the needed skills be picked up in 5 minutes, or is formal training desirable?

Second, who is available to do this (call them the 'facilitator')?  To get uninhibited discussion the facilitator shouldn't have been involved in teaching the course or grading the students.  The person who recommended having a focus group initially suggested having the course TA run it.  This would be only slightly better than having me run it, and the TA quickly pointed out that she was not an appropriate facilitator.

There are other instructors who I could ask to act as facilitator, but I have no idea  (1)how much work I would be asking of them; (2) whether this would be considered a personal favour or part of their job; (3) whether any of them have whatever skills or experience a facilitator needs.  Might there be a Faculty of Science teaching/research person who could do this?  Should I contact our Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology for help?

Third, I also don't know when we should hold the focus group.  I was initially thinking that we should do it in the week before the final exam.  The exam is scheduled for April 28, the very last day of the three-week exam period.  But the TA thought we should have it in May - she says many students will still be around.  And do we want to ask students to sign up for this, or just run it as a drop-in group?

Finally, who pays for the pizza?  Is there a special fund for course-development activities, or should it come out of the course's photocopying/petty cash budget?

I think I had better turn this post into an email to the person who suggested a focus group and to the head of the teaching-research group, so I can get their advice.

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