May 06 2011
Last week, my students did poster presentations on their teaching experiences. They all did amazing jobs on the presentations and sparked many good discussions. Towards the end of the poster presentation, they and other members of the audience began a discussion on the general chemistry class itself. A few of us agreed upon doing a focus group for the students. Because I was the least involved with the students/program and I wanted the experience, I was allowed to conduct the focus group.
Although I’m not sure if my research will entail a focus group, I figured it was a good experience to have under my belt and with guidance from those in the know (my advisor and a program evaluator). I also figured these students would be good for a focus group. They all are comfortable with each other (and I think they’re comfortable with me) and are very communicative. I admittedly was bit prejudiced towards the focus group format, because people may not be comfortable sharing their thoughts if they go against group opinion; this is what I’ve observed in focus groups I’ve participated in. Side note: for anyone doing research that involves people, I thoroughly recommend taking part in a study or multiple studies, even if the study is not part of your field. I’ve learned a lot about research just by taking part in these studies, asking questions, and observing.
Even though it’s the beginning of finals, the focus group had over half the participants. It was a very productive discussion that I’ll have transcribe after finals. Running a focus group was more fun, in my opinion, than an interview, because they bounced comments and ideas around and it created a more low-key environment. I think interviewing can be a little intense, since it’s one-on-one. The focus group seemed like a good format for these students, because they are friendly with each other and was just like a normal conversation or semi-structured, rather than interview. I can see now that focus groups definitely have some strong points.
With that said, I cannot express how impressed I was with these students. The caliber of work they delivered is very high-quality, and they made incredibly astute observations about teaching. I feel very lucky to have played a brief part in their educational path.