Focus groups can help you uncover research topics and questions you might not have considered; they give tutor alumni a chance to put their own stamp on your research by touching on those areas that are most important to them. This was the advice we were given early in the survey’s history by our universities’ statisticians. A focus group can all also tell you whether or not you want to proceed with a fuller, survey-driven study of your former tutors. You may find that the focus group fulfills your need for information all by itself. A focus group that asks tutor alumni about long- and short-term effects of their tutoring might be one of the most gratifying professional events you ever have. And one of the most fun. We didn’t realize this when we set out to hold ours.
One focus group was held at the University of Maine and another at Marquette. The Maine group, a random selection of alumni from different classes, ranging from 1982 to 1999, met at the writing center for two hours and had a homemade chili dinner that Harvey made. Marquette tutors, ranging from a 1991 grad to two very recent grads, also randomly selected, met at Paula’s house and had chicken. Each group talked for two one-hour sessions, following an agenda we had worked out in advance.
Harvey and Paula both videotaped their focus groups, analyzed the videos and sent a copy to one another for an outsider’s analysis. We looked for areas of the study in one another’s videos that we hadn’t considered. We strongly recommend working with a colleague in this way, to get an objective look at your results.
The focus groups gave us an opportunity to preview some of the responses we would get to the survey and the tutors in conversation with one another sparked lines of response a questionnaire alone wouldn’t have produced. For the tutors, aside from a good dinner, there was the benefit of some good alumni networking and a chance to contribute to a program that they helped build.Click here to see an agenda for these focus groups.