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John,

Several have offered excellent suggestions for focus group/survey questions. I would like to offer some practical considerations. The first is that focus groups and surveys are two different instruments--a focus group is a collaborative effort and a survey is individual. Second, unless you take your focus group and survey into the classroom, both provide low response rates that can lead to sampling bias. You might want to consider using both to collect student feedback. You can use the same line of questioning on each with follow-up questions and probes for the focus group and Likert-scale ratings for the survey. 

Second, there are pros and cons to both instruments. Focus groups are, hands down, the best way to collect student feedback, allowing you to ask direct, open-ended questions as well as follow-ups. Focus group participants get to see and hear what other students are saying, which often spurs them to respond and feed off their classmates' responses. You, as well, get to see and hear the students, which plays a big role with your follow-up questions. Focus groups are, however, labor-intensive (it takes a lot of prep to make them look effortless). Done properly, you set a date, invite participants, provide an agreement that documents the participants' understanding of the focus group. Not only should you take notes during the focus group (scribes are a good idea), you should tape the focus group conversation for later review and analysis. With all that prior effort, it's a shame that student focus group participation is typically low. You might consider offering some sort of incentive--a meal of some sort is always an attraction. 

Surveys, on the other hand (particularly electronic surveys), are easy to administer. Just be careful of the number of questions on your survey. Surveys already have a reputation for providing incredibly low response rates (, you have no mechanism for probes or follow-up questions. You can't see the incongruence with one student's body and verbal language while another student rolls his eyes in response to the question. Qualitative comments on a survey are especially rare. 

-----Original Message-----
From: Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Barbara Kirkwood
Sent: Monday, April 30, 2012 10:10 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Questions for a focus group of students who didn't come for tutoring

How successful were they in their courses? 
What future plans do they have for education?  
Will they make any changes in what they do as far as academic support in future semesters?
What would have made them take the step to come for academic assistance?
Did they see an advisor?
Did they meet with an instructor?  Would it have encouraged them to get tutoring if an instructor had suggested it?
 
I would want to know if they were actively failing (attending classes, doing the homework and reading) or if they quit attending.
 
I would love to hear what insights you gain.
Barb
 
Barbara L.S. Kirkwood
Teaching-Learning Center
Prince George's Community College
Largo, MD.
301.322.0464

>>> [log in to unmask] 04/30/12 10:55 AM >>>

Hi all,

Beginning last semester, I reached out to student by email who had been flagged in our first alerts program as having academic difficulty and encouraged them to come for tutoring.  A recent assessment of one of the outreached showed that at least one group of students did not come for tutoring.  I would like to put together a small focus group of them and send them a brief survey.  Besides the obvious question of why they did not come for tutoring, what other questions should I ask?

Thanks for your help,

John Cleveland

John P. Cleveland, M.T.S., M.A.
Director, Tutoring Center
Center for Academic Excellence
& Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies Pace University
41 Park Row, Room 204
New York, NY  10038
(212)346-1407 (phone)
(212)346-1520 (fax)
[log in to unmask]
www.pace.edu/tutoring
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