Focus groups may be conducted both during and after the completion of a blended module in order to learn more about the way a cohort has engaged with the course design. Feedback may provide insights into students’ study approaches, learning experiences, and attitudes towards the online tasks. Focus groups are a good way of clarifying and eliciting more detailed answers from students on the issues that may have been raised in the end of course survey. Unstructured questioning often works best, enabling students to direct the discussion (rather than be led by the questioner’s agenda) in reflecting on their learning experiences. They can also be used to probe the experiences of the tutorial team in supporting student learning.
For this second year undergraduate module, a focus group was used to probe reasons why the cohort did not fully engage in a blogging activity, by recording their observations within a course blog and commenting on the entries of their peers. The activity logs had built up a picture of uneven student engagement across the cohort, but did not reveal the reasons why this had happened. The focus group offered the following insights into student behaviour:
People did not want to offend. On the web you can be anonymous and be prepared to take things on a bit, but it is different for a course, although the seminars can be heated, but none of that was transferred on-line.
It is a cultural thing. If you are into blogging, then fine. But if you are not but are told to do it, it is a major difference. It was new to me. The first I heard of it was when the course started.
Example of use of focus groups
Dr Peter Mayhew, Biology
View Evolutionary Ecology Case Study [PDF]
In this module, some groups opted to use their blog space to collect evidence for the reports that they were preparing, other groups did not use the tools which were provided for them, and their formative learning activities were therefore not visible to the instructor. The focus group aimed to probe the organisation of their learning outside the formal learning space (VLE), to explore how they worked as a group. The focus group findings revealed that some groups were using Facebook to manage their research tasks, taking advantage of the email alert function so that they were aware when new entries had been made by group members.
New Media & Society
Example of exploration of informal learning
Brian Loader, Sociology
View New Media and Society Case Study [PDF]