In the original funding application for the project it was outlined that two separate focus group’s would take place with the mentees and mentors to gather opinions on the project and ascertain it’s efficacy. Questionnaires were also outlined as a research tool.
As we enter the busiest data gathering period of the project I am reconsidering this approach which was devised with predicted numbers of 8-10 mentors and 30 mentees. With the very small numbers of students involved and the low levels of engagement in mind a new approach has been devised:
Semi-structured interviews will be offered with the three mentors, the four mentees who attended sessions, the supporting member of staff from Learning Development, the first year students Personal Tutor and project lead. These will be conducted using both face to face and digital communications methods e.g. Skype.
Questionnaires will be sent to the first year class group who were invited to take part but did not attend to ascertain what the barriers were to attendance for them.
I feel the interviews will be able to gather more in depth data and offer the mentors and other stakeholders opportunities to share their experience of the project in more detail. In addition the adaptability offered through semi-structured interviews will open doors to examining outcomes of the project experience for participants which had not been considered at the proposal phase of the research.
It is a shame to lose the opportunity of examining the similarities and differences of participants responses in the moment (Stewart, 2018, p.688) and gain the benefits of participants interactions helping them in further critiquing and considering the answers given (Stewart, 2018, p.689). Focus groups would still be the preferred method for data collection, particularly in capturing the opinions of the potential mentees who did not take part but the only way I see getting those students together would be in an in class situation which would take valuable time away from planned teaching and potentially confuse participants in understanding their rights of refusal to take part.
I do wonder if this change has come about because I feel a little scarred by the lack of student engagement in a project in which participation offered them so many benefits (or at least I believe so, hopefully the research will confirm this hunch). Have my feelings shaped my chosen research strategy? Is the voice that said ‘there is no point scheduling focus groups because they won’t turn up anyway?’ a distanced and objective researchers voice or one of a jaded lecturer who has just succumb to accepting that students just do what the need to pass? What does this mean for the research? Is it still valid and reliable?
My answer to this question is yes; we have not given up on viable research tools, we have simply exchanged them for others in response to observations of the participant group and their needs. And although I am biased data is being collected by a research assistant with no affiliation to the project, programme or university. What has changed is the scale, this was never a big piece of research by any stretch of the imagination but it has shifted from 40 plus stakeholders engaging in face to face data collection to 10 at most limiting the wider application of any findings. However I think there are benefits to this; enabling the researchers to complete a more in depth analysis of the data and apply findings directly into the development of the project. My hope is that in the data gathered some clues will be offered for why engagement is such a struggle to feed into the design of next years project.
Who knows maybe we will be able to research it again…
Stewart, D. W. (2018) Focus Groups. In: Frey, B. B. (ed.) The SAGE Encyclopedia of Educational Research, Measurement, and Evaluation. California: Sage Publications, Inc, pp.687-691.