1st Edition

Using Focus Groups to Listen, Learn, and Lead in Higher Education

    210 Pages
    by Routledge

    210 Pages
    by Routledge

    Using Focus Groups to Listen, Learn, and Lead in Higher Education presents an easy-to-use 6-step guide to help leaders in higher education listen to and learn from their stakeholders in order to enhance decision making. The big questions facing institutions today--especially those surrounding access, affordability, and accountability--require more than dashboards. Metrics and quantitative data alone do not offer lasting solutions and improvements. Using qualitative methods to listen to the voices of those involved, especially students and staff, is critical. Focus groups constitute the most appropriate, rigorous, and relevant qualitative research tool for this purpose, and one that is cost-effective and builds community when conducted using the ODU Method described in this book. Using Focus Groups is a single, comprehensive, and practical resource that describes why, when, and how to use focus groups. The authors provide detailed guidance for using focus groups, from developing the research questions with stakeholders, through training and recruiting moderators, and identifying and recruiting participants, to the logistics of conducting focus groups, and ultimately analyzing data and developing final reports. Conversational vignettes illustrate the discussions that regularly occur in each step and help the reader better understand the process. Fifteen appendices provide templates and examples of every part of the process.Written particularly for institutional research and assessment staff and upper-level administrators, this book will also appeal to deans, department and program chairs and directors, faculty leaders, and administrative unit directors, including those in auxiliary and student services, alumni associations, and university foundations. It also serves as an excellent resource for higher education research methods courses.The authors are uniquely positioned to guide readers in this process. The team developed and refined this technique over two decades at Old Dominion University. They have conducted over 100 focus groups with campus, nonprofit, local, and international community organizations to assist them in assessing student learning, transition, and preparedness for the workforce, as well as evaluating organizations work and planning future projects.

    Foreword by Jillian Kinzie Preface Acknowledgments 1. Exploring the Big Questions in Higher Education. Access, Affordability, Accountability 2. Using Focus Groups to Listen, Learn, and Lead. The ODU Method for Conducting Focus Groups 3. Step #1. Develop a Research Proposal, Define the Purpose, and Write Research Questions. To Do or Not to Do a Focus Group 4. Step #2. Select Participants and Subsets of Participants. Choose Wisely 5. Step #3. Design the Moderator’s Guide. A Cookbook Approach 6. Step #4. Select and Train the Moderators. The Research Tool 7. Step #5. Conduct the Focus Groups. It’s All About Logistics 8. Step #6. Analyze the Data and Report the Results. So What Does it All Mean? 9. The Best Laid Plans. When to Just Say “No” or to Create Plans B Through E Appendices References Index


    Mona J.E. Danner is Professor and Chair of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University. Dr. Danner has also served as Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, Director of the MA in Applied Sociology and the PhD in Criminology & Criminal Justice programs, and has been active in service at all levels throughout the university including working with focus groups across campus. Social inequalities, crime control policies, and globalization comprise her teaching and research interests. She has published in those fields and presented research at conferences throughout the U.S., in Europe, Latin America, and Australia, and at the NGO Forum held in conjunction with the United Nations Conference on Women in 1995 in Beijing, China. Dr. Danner has also published op-eds and been featured in television and radio interviews and been quoted by the popular print media. J. Worth Pickering retired as Assistant Vice President for Assessment at Old Dominion University where he worked for more 30 years. He now works for ODU as a part-time consultant. Prior to his appointment as AVP, he held the position of Director of Assessment and has also worked in Student Services Research and served in the Counseling Center as a career counselor. Dr. Pickering co-led the development of the focus group process at ODU over the last 20 years and has led a variety of focus group projects in which we have conducted more than 100 focus groups during that time. Dr. Pickering has taught graduate courses in career development and student development as well as research and assessment at ODU. His primary research interests are in the areas of student success and student learning. In addition to his work at ODU, Dr. Pickering regularly consults with other institutions and conducts workshops at regional and national conferences. He has published articles and book chapters in the areas of student learning, student success, and assessment. Tisha M. Paredes is Assistant Vice

    “I know personally that the results obtained from well-designed and executed focus groups can provide information that campus administrators need to make programmatic and strategic decisions. The authors used focus groups to help me learn more about the culture, values, and critical issues facing the campus when I became Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Old Dominion University. This book is the next best thing to having them at your institution.”

    Augustine O. Agho, Ph.D, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

    Old Dominion University

    "A friendly, practical, and principled DIY guide, Using Focus Groups will help educators at any type of institution. Its process approach aims for the relevance of qualitative research combined with the rigor of quantitative methods. Guiding readers from first steps through data analysis and reporting, the book offers extended vignettes as well as templates and models. Engaging both faculty and staff in the process, the book identifies resources ready to hand on every campus."

    Susan Albertine, Senior Scholar

    Association of American Colleges & Universities

    "While surveys and other quantitative tools provide broad data regarding higher education and its impact, they cannot accurately reflect the socially constructed, interpretivist experience of individual participants. In Using Focus Groups to Listen, Learn, and Lead in Higher Education, Danner, Pickering, and Paredes embrace this reality and have created a comprehensive text for implementing focus groups. This vital resource, with nine easy-to-read chapters outlining the process, should be on the bookshelf of every higher education researcher and practitioner."

    Gavin Henning, Ph.D., Director, Doctorate of Education and Master of Higher Education Administration Programs

    New England College

    "It seems like every day we read an article about higher education and the new era of big data. The buzzwords are everywhere: our decisions must be data driven, our assessments must be evidence based, and every software solution has to have a side order of analytics. Much of the fuel that feeds our engines of institutional effectiveness relies on quantitative data and metrics. But through a rigorous methodology that leverages the power of focus

    groups, Danner, Pickering, and Paredes offer a qualitative lens that enables institutions to better focus on answering the big questions of access, affordability, and accountability in higher education.

    The beginning of the book sets the stage by providing context and research around three of the largest issues in higher education today—issues that deans and department chairs often grapple with on a daily basis: access, affordability, and accountability. The authors note that these topics can be further investigated through both quantitative and qualitative methods, depending on the research question, but often a mix of the two enhances the answers provided. Metrics and surveys give us only part of the story, but to truly understand the human element of these three critical issues, we need to include a qualitative approach. When we incorporate such methods as focus groups, the authors conclude that we are able to ‘hear the voices’ of those affected by access, affordability, and accountability.

    In the ever-changing world we live in, the challenges of access, affordability, and accountability in higher education remain a constant. How we answer these challenges, both big and small, and implement the changes needed will ultimately determine our success. This text offers a road map to that success, providing a valuable resource to anyone in academic administration who is seeking answers to the big and small questions in higher education."

    The Department Chair

    "The first full chapter would be useful for an introductory social science methods course; it outlines clear and concise definitions of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods research. It also provides examples of the types of research questions that are answered by each type of research and the sorts of data these methods might collect in a higher education research context. Because the book is about focus group research, the first chapter funnels the reader into how higher education research questions might be answered by using focus groups.

    While the chapters of the book are valuable, the appendixes ensure the text’s practical usefulness, as they provide model documents that beginning focus group researchers can use as templates for their own research projects. The book accomplishes what it sets out to do, guiding its readers in how to use focus groups to do higher education research."

    Contemporary Sociology

    "Using Focus Groups to Listen, Learn, and Lead in Higher Education is an excellent addition to the bookshelf of anyone seeking to expand their research and assessment toolbelt. Mona J.E. Danner, J. Worth Pickering, and Tisha M. Paredes serve as knowledgeable guides on the process of conducting focus groups, a methodology that may intimidate those unfamiliar with their use on college campuses. The book is a quick read, but the thorough treatment of the topic leaves one feeling equipped to use this method in their own research and assessment processes.

    This volume is an excellent and valuable read for anyone involved in student orientation, transition, and retention. So often, as professionals, we lament the information we would collect 'if only,' but we are unable or unwilling to move beyond the surveys that form the core of most assessments. However, using focus groups allows for a more person-centered approach to gathering information without the time and human resources required for individaul interviews. Particularly for a department or unit with a long history of anecdotal support for programs or services but little data to back up those claims, focus groups may provide a targeted and streamlined appraoch to gathering that evidence. Using the steps outlined in the text allows for a more rigorous research and assessment process beyond, 'Well, I heard from this student...'

    Books about research methods are often heavy, dense, and cumbersome, but Using Focus Groups to Listen, Learn, and Lead in Higher Education was a quick and engaging read with clear and actionable steps. The book has become a worthwhile addition to my own methods bookshelf. For those looking to add qualitative methods to their research and assessment portfolio, focus groups are a great start--and this volume is an excellent introduction."

    Tory E. Dellafiora, Senior Assistant Director of Outreach and Assessment, the Career Center, Florida State University