Using Focus Groups for Program Assessment at WSU
For programs and departments wishing to assess the learning experiences of undergraduates in their majors, there are several different groups of students who might participate in focus groups, for different purposes. Examples of different purposes for focus groups include:
- A group of seniors nearing graduation: focus groups provide an opportunity to ask a number of different program assessment questions about students’ overall experience of the major, such as students’ perceptions of how well pre-requisites prepared them for later classes
- Assess experience of the first student cohort in a new curriculum mid-way through the curriculum, so that adjustments can be made, and again in the senior year
- In response to results from other assessments, to add depth of understanding to other data
ATL-Facilitated Focus Groups
ATL offers three different focus group formats, each developed for specific contexts. ATL serves as the neutral third party to facilitate focus groups, consulting in advance to customize questions and topics that target the program’s assessment needs and fit with their overall assessment plan.
|Traditional Focus Group|
An ATL assessment specialist facilitates a whole group discussion with students about their experiences in the program. Students respond to a set of questions that ATL and the program assessment team develop in advance.
ATL staff take notes of student responses (no recordings are made), without names.
ATL analyzes student responses and provides a summary report of themes that emerge, along with the focus group notes.
|Mixed Activities Focus Group|
Several varied activities
In this format, ATL facilitates small-group activities designed to promote discussion and consensus —as well as allow for individual responses—about experiences in the program.
Customized by ATL, activities target topics or questions the program has.
ATL collects individual and group-consensus responses and provides a report with these responses.
|Team-based Focus Group |
Online group responses
In this format, using a live, online discussion board, students work in groups to respond to questions that ATL and the program develop in advance.
This activity is geared to class settings where students have worked in established teams, inviting teams to shape their consensus responses to specific questions, while also allowing students to include some individual perspectives.
Teams give brief responses using a live group discussion board, and can also view other groups’ responses and express agreement or disagreement. This format collects group responses anonymously, posted by the team leader.
ATL provides a report with each team’s responses.
Survey or Focus Group?
Some assessment questions can be better addressed using a survey than a focus group, so programs should consider the strengths of focus groups and of surveys. Some programs include a short survey at the end of the focus group, if there are questions better suited to that format.
|To understand what, how often, to what extent||X|
|To understand how or why||X|
|To get information from many people (100+)||X|
|To test a new idea||X|
|To get feedback on a new idea||X|
|To contextualize survey findings||X|
Resources for Focus Groups
ATL is available to conduct focus groups for undergraduate programs, contact us for additional information.