Focus Group Protocol

The following material is reproduced from The FlashlightÖ Evaluation Handbook by Stephen C. Ehrmann and Robin Etter Z˙˝iga, 1997, pp. 3-57 to3-61.

Interview/Focus Group Protocol
Sample Introduction/Conclusion for Focus Groups
Suggested Interview /Focus Group Questions
Sample Introduction and Conclusion for Interviews

Interview/Focus Group Protocol:

The Interview/Focus Group Protocol enables the institution to probe more deeply into the ways in which students perceive the value added from technology. The open-ended format of the interview protocol also allows the student to offer information about "unique uses" of technology that might not be revealed through the structured questionnaire format.

If you want open-ended responses from individuals (interviews) or groups (focus groups), you may use a number of interviewers or focus group leaders. What follows are sample scripts (protocols) for your interviewers or group leaders, and an item bank of interview/focus group questions for them to use in conducting their interviews or focus group sessions. We suggest you use items I through 4 from the item bank, then select no more than 3 to 4 additional questions from items 5 through 15 of the item bank.

This interview/focus group protocol can be used on its own or as a supplement to a questionnaire that was distributed earlier. The interview/focus group can: (1) gather information that will help you interpret the questionnaire responses; and (2) pretest a questionnaire, enabling you to revise it before it is widely used.

Note on typography in the interview/focus group item bank: Phrases in italics are instructions or suggestions for you as the study designer. They are usually about options in the protocol's design. Phrases or passages in CAPITAL LETTERS are instructions to the interviewer or focus group leader. Pages 3-62 and 3-63 contain a suggested list of [specific technologies] and [specific educational purposes] related to those technologies.

 

Sample Introduction/Conclusion for Focus Groups:

WELCOME ALL THE PARTICIPANTS. IT IS A GOOD IDEA TO HAVE THEM INTRODUCE THEMSELVES AND SAY SOMETHING ABOUT THEMSELVES AND THEIR INVOLVEMENT IN THE COURSE, COURSE OF STUDY, ETC.

THE FACILITATOR SHOULD INTRODUCE THE SESSION BY SAYING SOMETHING LIKE THE FOLLOWING:

"Thank you for coming today. [Give your interviewer a brief description of your study that will explain convincingly why it is important for the respondent to respond fully and thoughtfully to your questions.]

We've brought you together so that we can learn from each other about what is really going on in [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution]. This is a `'no holds barred" discussion. We want to know what you're seeing, even if it looks bad. That is the only way we are going to learn. Of course, we also want to know where things are going well, but where they are not going well we really need to hear that message.

We are focusing on your experiences in [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution] during [term, semester, other period of time). However, if you have comments or concerns that span a longer time period, please do not hesitate to bring them up.

We are taping this session so that we can study what you have said, but it goes no farther than this group. Anything you say here will be held in strict confidence; we won't be telling people outside this room who said what. When you have something to say, please repeat your name each time. When we are listening to the tape again we will not be able to see who is speaking, and we'll need to be able to relate comments you made at different times..

AT THE END OF THE FOCUS GROUP BRIEFLY SUMMARIZE THE MAIN POINTS OF THE

DISCUSSION. ENCOURAGE SOME GENERAL AGREEMENT BY SAYING SOMETHING LIKE: "WHAT I HAVE HEARD YOU SAYING THIS MORNING/AFTERNOON WAS ...SUMMARIZE.... DID I SUMMARIZE YOUR THOUGHTS CORRECTLY? IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD

LIKE TO ADD OR AMEND?"

THANK EVERYONE FOR ATTENDING.

A week or two after the focus group, write a short memo to everyone affected by evaluation of the [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution] (via e-mail or paper) summarizing what was said and detailing some actions you plan to take as a result of the discussion, if applicable. This will reinforce the value of their participation.

 

Suggested Interview /Focus Group Questions:

  1. What is your overall opinion of this [insert name of the course, course of study, service. or education at a particular institution]?
  2. What is the most important outcome of this [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution] for you (e.g., something you learned or a way in which it changed your life or direction)? Can you summarize how or why that happened? Perhaps a story about something that happened to you would help us understand what you mean.
  3. What is the most frustrating or wasteful consequence of [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution] for you? Can you summarize how or why that happened? Perhaps a story about something that happened to you would help us understand what you mean.
  4. [Specific technology] is a technology you have used in this [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution] in order to do [specific educational purpose]. We'd like your help in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of using this technology.

Let's begin by imagining how [specific educational purpose] might have been accomplished if [specific technology] had not been available. How is this [specific educational purpose] accomplished when [specific technology]?

Compare doing [specific educational purpose] in these two ways. For you as a learner, what are the advantages of using this [specific technology]? Can you tell me/us a story that illustrates what you mean?

What are the disadvantages of using this [specific technology]? Can you tell me/us a story that illustrates what you mean? Is there anything we might do about those disadvantages or problems?

At this point you may want to instruct the interviewer or Facilitator to ask specific follow-up questions about specific outcomes. Questions 5 through 10 are examples of such items.

  1. Has the use of [specific technology] in [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution] impacted your ability to understand and/or remember course material? Why or why not? Please explain.
  2. Has the use of [specific technology] in [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution] enhanced your creativity? Why or why not? Please explain.
  3. Has the use of [specific technology] in [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution] improved the skills you will need in your chosen profession? Why or why not? Please explain.
  4. Has the use of [specific technology] in [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution] made it easier for you to pursue higher education? Why or why not? Please explain.
  5. Has the use of [specific technology] in [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution] affected your interaction with family and friends? Why or why not? Please explain.
  6. Has the use of [specific technology] in [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution] affected your involvement in your local community? Why or why not? Please explain.

 Questions 11 through 15 are questions of general interest.

  1. In selecting an institution did access to computers, telecommunications, or other instructional technologies influence your decision? If so, what attracted you to this institution?
  1. Was [specific technology] a factor in deciding to take [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution]? If so, in what ways was it a factor, and why?
  1. Are you aware of any technical problems that occurred during your course(s) last term? Such as, electronic mail not working, the World Wide Web server not operating successfully, etc.? Were these problems dealt with promptly? Do you have any suggestions for how we can improve our technical support services?
  1. Would you recommend this [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution] to other students? Why or why not?
  1. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your experience with this [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution]?

 

Sample Introduction and Conclusion for Interviews:

Hello, my name is __________________. I am calling on behalf of ______________ . [Give your interviewer a brief description of your study that will explain convincingly why it is important to respond fully and thoughtfully to your questions.] You have been selected from among those students who completed the questionnaire on experiences with the use of technology for [insert name of course or program] during [this term, semester quarter].

The survey will take approximately ____ minutes. [May I begin or may we schedule a convenient time to complete the interview].

IF THEY AGREE:

Unless otherwise indicated, we are asking about your experience with technology use in [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution]. We are very interested in hearing anything you want to tell us about your experiences with instructional technologies in [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution].

BEGIN INTERVIEW WITH THE FIRST QUESTION SELECTED

AT THE END OF THE INTERVIEW Thank you very much for your time. We promise to use the information you have provided us to improve education at in [insert name of the course, course of study, service, or education at a particular institution].