Focus groups


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A session on using focus groups, mainly in a higher education research and evaluation setting. How can we decide whether to use a focus group vs interviews or surveys. What does a focus group look like etc

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  • i like it , thanks so much Atkins
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  • Purpose: to talk about focus groups as method of data collectionWhy me: have been doing with EdDev colleagues focus groups, mainly for curr review purpose. Enjoy this method and participants get something back too. Situate the method in relation to other formsFocus group processExample questionsTechniques that enrich questioningMention alternatives such as Nominal Group TechniqueFirst question: Have you had experience of focus groups as participants or facilitators?
  • Danger of not being neutral: defensive positions vs real ‘disinterested’ listening.
  • * May depend on research question and facilitation and group!
  • Credibility, trust and maximum participationGroup management:Convergence and conformityAre we looking for consensus?Are participants trying to conform to emerging group norms? Are participants Closure (reporting) and thanks
  • Credibility, trust and maximum participationGroup management:Convergence and conformityAre we looking for consensus?Are participants trying to conform to emerging group norms? Are participants Closure (reporting) and thanks
  • Nominal Group element!
  • PgDip topicsInformal peer learning (Nick)Learning Styles (James)Professionalism (teaching and assessing (Liam)Feedback (Sonia and Cathy)Self and Peer assessment (esp n PBL groups) (Jane)Facilitation of reflection (Helen)Self-directed learning (Lu)Simulation in healthcare (Lolah)
  • PgDip topicsInformal peer learning (Nick)Learning Styles (James)Professionalism (teaching and assessing (Liam)Feedback (Sonia and Cathy)Self and Peer assessment (esp n PBL groups) (Jane)Facilitation of reflection (Helen)Self-directed learning (Lu)Simulation in healthcare (Lolah)
  • Whilst we talk can you think about whether your question would suit this topic to be explored in a one-to-one, many-to-one
  • Focus groups

    1. 1. Focus groups Tünde Varga-Atkins eLearning Unit CLL, University of Liverpool 7th June 2012Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-Sharealike
    2. 2. Rationale for focus groups“When people gather to talk about something, their contributions and understandings will be enriched by the group dynamic.” (Cousins 2009)“To display and discuss differences in a group. ...” (Lewis 2003) Focus groups are for sharing and comparing
    3. 3. Focus group process an open group discussion with a focus Size: 6-8 (4-12) Neutral facilitator participants Sample selection!1-2 hours Incentive Audio recorder & other resources or stimulus material Ethics: informed consent and reporting
    4. 4. What is a focus group?A focused but open discussion with a group of 6-8 participants, moderated by aneutral facilitator usually lasting 1-2 hours. The facilitator usually has a topic (orquestion) guide which may or may not be covered in sequence. English language Peer support Introduction Closure Study skills Focus: International student experience Question(s): Can you tell me about the support that you have received on campus?
    5. 5. Some possible combinationsa focus group(s) Exploring depthb survey focus group(s) Generate ideasc focus group(s) survey
    6. 6. Methods: from individual to group group Focus groupsResearcher Researcher presentnot present Surveys Interviews individual
    7. 7. Methods: from individual to group group Shared experience? Idea Participant motivation Focus groups development aided by others? What makes you study (more)?Researcher Researcher presentnot present Surveys Interviews How many hours do you Can you tell me a bit more about what you do spend studying?* when you study? Bias by individual others?* BUT: in a focus group setting, participants can have a discussion about what constitutes study, which may make themadjust their own understanding of what study is.
    8. 8. Surveys Focus groups InterviewsBias? Useful when you Potential of ‘group Useful when you don’t don’t want others to bias’ – participants say want others to bias bias your participant what they think you or your participant other participants want to hearShared experience? Participant relies on Useful to talk about Useful when you own experience – shared experiences. want to explore may be more difficult ‘You bounce off ideas individual to recall. from one another’. experiences.Idea development Relies on participant FGs are useful when FGs are useful whenaided by others? able to formulate the development of the development of their ideas without ideas and ideas and prompts. understanding is aided understanding is aided by other group by other group members. members.Motivation/Enjoyment ? Participants generally Participants generally enjoy the process.* enjoy the process. Non-response and They learn something They learn something quality of response new. new. as a problem. BUT: feasibility and practicality may be the largest factors (of getting volunteers, organising them together etc.)
    9. 9. The schedule of a Focus Group 1. Introduction 2. The ‘Focus’ = questions 3. Closure1. Introduction = setting scene and establishing trust: – purpose – ground rules (conformity / convergence) – ethics – reporting
    10. 10. 2. The ‘Focus’ = aka questions Low vs high moderation2 questions 6 questions: exploring international student experience on campus 6 questions These will not necessarily be covered in order. (Cousins 2009, p63) Note: Participants do not normally see the questions – the discussion is good if it seems to flow naturally.
    11. 11. Anatomy of a good focus group question (Cousins 2009, p63)Open question English language with ready probes Peer Probing for support Can you say depth something Probing for Study about further range skills support..? Preparation and good question (and prompts, probes) design is very important!
    12. 12. Sample questions from a UoL curriculum evaluation focus group• 1.What aspects of the X best facilitated your learning?• 2. What aspects of the X inhibited your learning ?• 3. What aspects of the X caused the most stress/anxiety and did this stress/anxiety worsen or lessen as the X progressed?• 4. Optional specific questions.• 5. Can you suggest one (two) different ways in which the X could be improved?
    13. 13. 3. Closure = importance of the feedback cycle 1. Set out purpose 10. Action & 2. Agree what feedback to questions students to ask 9. Presentation 3. Agree on and discussion method of report (focus group) 8. Circulation of 4. Conduct of report to staff focus groups 7. Production of 5. Compiling final report draft report 6. Draft report sent to students for confirmation
    14. 14. Enriching questionsStimulus Visual techniques Tasks e.g. projection techniquesSource Source: as many stimulus Asking participants to take Asking participants tomaterial related to the photos, draw diagrams or undertake an activity, e.g.topic as possible to help drawings to elicit their using projective techniquesparticipants recall e.g. bring experiences e.g. ask them to or write down their topassignment samples for a discussion draw a timeline of their time at five priority in the givenon feedback. university topic etc.
    15. 15. A few visual technique examples Diagrams Source: http://www.theacademy- (network, timelines, ower_of_peer_learning Source: maps etc.) 330787/ or drawings Asking participants to draw Photo elicitation diagrams or drawings to Asking participants to elicit their experiences, e.g. select from the available see above a network photos which relates to diagram. their experience, e.g. on peer learning.What participants will comment on the visuals is more important than what they actually select or draw.
    16. 16. Analysis: What is the ‘data’? = data = data e.g. Haidet et al 2008 e.g. West et al. 200o = data e.g. Jafri et al 2008In an interview or focus group situation, which asks participants to draw something, there area number of alternatives as to what your ‘data’ will become. It can be either just the transcript(the verbal interaction), or just the drawing/diagram, or both.
    17. 17. An alternative focus group method: group Focus groups Nominal Group Technique Surveys Interviews individualThe Nominal Group Technique is a useful technique that is structured in a way thatalthough it is a group session, it does focus on individual experiences and opinions ratherthan group consensus. Participants at various points in the session are asked to give theirindividual opinions which are ranked at the end.
    18. 18. An alternative focus group method:• The Nominal Group Technique. – Good decision-making technique with no need for transcription! – Brings in a quantitative element through the ranking stages. – More useful for evaluation and less useful for ‘full’ research. – See references for more details.
    19. 19. Summary• Focus groups are useful to run when: – exploring a shared experience. – participants (and the research!) benefits from the development of understanding and ideas in a group environment. – group bias or conformity is not likely/important.• FGs need to be facilitated by a neutral facilitator.• FGs are valuable in terms of the quality of the output (if focused and run well).• Are they cheap? Are they easy to organise? Facilitate?• FGs can be enriched by various techniques such as use of visuals and other stimulus.
    20. 20. References• Focus groups – Cousin, G. (2009). Focus Group Research. IN: Researching learning in higher education  an : introduction to contemporary methods and approaches. London: Routledge, pp.51-69. – Ritchie, J., & Lewis, J. (2003). Qualitative research practice  a guide for social science students and : researchers. London; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.
    21. 21. References• Nominal Group Technique – Practical guide: Varga-Atkins, T., with contributions from Bunyan, N; McIsaac, J; Fewtrell J. (2011) The Nominal Group Technique: a practical guide for facilitators. Written for the ELESIG Small Grants Scheme. Liverpool: University of Liverpool. October. Version 1.0. Available at – Project report: Varga-Atkins, T. with contributions from Bunyan, N; McIsaac, J and Fewtrell, R. (2011) Using the nominal group technique with clickers to research student experiences of e-learning. Project Report written for the ELESIG Small Grants Scheme. Liverpool: University of Liverpool. Available from at
    22. 22. Can you please put on a post-it note a likely research questionthat you want to explore for your PgDip assignment?
    23. 23. Take your likely research question.Which method would you think work best? Or a combination?