Assistant Professor Michelle Falter and 11 College of Education Doctoral Students Co-Author Paper Focused on Conducting Focus Groups Through Zoom

In March 2020, Michel Falter, an associate professor at the State College of Education of the Northern Kingdom, was teaching a course on interviews and focus groups on qualitative methods when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the classroom to go online.

Although Falter had some experience with Zoom, she has never experienced conducting focus groups in a synchronous online environment and has noticed that there is not much methodological literature on how to approach this issue.

When she and her class of 15 doctoral students navigated the world of qualitative online research, they decided it would be helpful to document their experiences to share with other researchers.

“I asked the class if they were interested in writing an article with me because I felt it was such an auspicious moment that I thought would be helpful to many other researchers involved in this transition from human research to online research, ”Falter said.

Of the 15 students in the class, 11 doctoral students decided to work with Falter in May and June 2020 to co-author “Decorating a Place to Increase Focus Group Techniques: Opportunities and Challenges for Novice Researchers” (during and after COVID-19). “During self-study, Falter and students reflect on the opportunities and challenges they experience as moderators and participants in Zoom focus groups during the course.

Students who come from all three PhDs of the College. programs divided into groups to consider different aspects of the writing process and then reunited to share work, collaborate, and find a cohesive voice for the work.

The unique ability to work with students from different academic backgrounds and who have been at different stages of their doctoral path, has been an advantage of the process, said Laura Jacobs, a doctoral student. in teacher education and the science of teaching literacy and English arts.

“We all had different writing experiences, so we could support each other differently. It wasn’t just about being able to see something from the other side; we were also able to learn together and emulate the strengths of everyone who works together and has different experiences, ”she said.

Preparing for a future academic career

For many co-authoring students, this work was the first experience of submitting an article to a journal for publication. From the moment the group sent the article to its first journal to the time it was finally published, the process took more than a year and a half.

This process of waiting, rejecting, rewriting and re-sending is one Aaron Arenas, a doctoral student. in the study program of Higher Education “Leadership in Education, Policy and Human Development”, said he was ready for it based on stories he had heard from other colleagues.

Feeling the process first hand as a student has helped to better prepare him for what publication will be like as a future researcher.

“It was nice to see as students, to know that if we are going through this as a future teacher, we just need to keep trying and keep going until we can get our work done,” Arenas said. “There have been some trials and difficulties in writing, but now that it has been published, I am looking back on the process and I am glad we did. It’s a great achievement that we’ve come together as a class you don’t often hear about, and I think that’s something we should be proud of. ”

Since its publication online in January, the article has been downloaded more than 260 times and has been widely distributed and discussed in online groups of quality researchers, Falter said.

Combining research and practice

The aim of the article is to help other researchers navigate the world of online focus groups, but even the authors of the article took advantage of their own advice, drawing on the results presented in the publication, while working on other projects.

Xavier Kaysan, Ph.D. in the study of educational leadership, policy and human development on the evaluation and analysis of education policy, said he pulled directly from the article in his role as director of public schools and school transformations of the Durham Public Schools Foundation.

In this role, he teaches students from Duke University and North Carolina Central University who conduct interviews and focus groups as part of an ongoing research project involving public schools. Cason was able to update focus group lessons for students using the best practices outlined in an article he co-authored, so students were prepared to conduct interviews in a virtual environment.

“I took it directly from this article and he gave me such a practical document. I can actually update what the curriculum was based on what we did, and it was a thrill, ”Kayson said.“ I can get right out of this article to show what we went through and what could happen in their experience ”.

Arenas said he also applied the principles outlined in the article to a more recent research project.

He said the use of dual moderators in the focus group – so that one person could take notes and another could focus on participants to support their participation – was one practice from the class that he found particularly useful.

“It’s important to make sure you’re attracted to people, because Zoom fatigue is a thing, and one of the ways we can fight it is to make sure one person is just attentive to everyone, beating all the comments,” he said. “It’s one example of what I can come up with where I used what we learned from that experience, in real life, and it helped me a lot.”

Jacobs along with Nada Wafa, a Ph.D. in the field of teacher education and the science of teaching social studies in education program, felt that their experience working with Zoom focus groups would be particularly useful when they complete their dissertations.

Although Jacobs’ dissertation will focus on teachers in Wake County, the constant restrictions associated with the pandemic do not allow her to go to school, so understanding how to successfully conduct focus groups online will be helpful, she said. In addition, Wafa, whose research focuses on global education, has been able to connect with teachers around the world through Zoom.

“Research in the classroom at the moment is challenging because of the situation with COVID, so having it as a tool is very important for us as researchers in this work,” Wafa said. “Zoom has become a lifeline for communication with teachers around the world.”

Inspiring other researchers

Gordon Maples, Ph.D. in the program “Higher Education Opportunities, Justice and Equity in Education, Policy and Human Development”, is already thinking about how Zoom could be useful for qualitative research in the future.

Maple had previous experience working with personal focus groups that were filmed. However, these sessions were often recorded from top to bottom and were not close enough to capture certain aspects of body language or facial expression, he said. Meanwhile, Zoom can capture more subtleties and, when combined with the chat feature, can become a rich source of data.

“I think the way Zooms designs the shots, especially on the faces, captures the look and the movements of the face very well. “Such things can be very useful for review,” he said. “Using Zoom for this kind of methodical exercise has made me think about how to potentially use it in the future for quality work on a visual basis.”

Falter hopes that in the future the article can help not only other researchers who need to conduct online focus groups, but also other scholars who teach classes on quality methods.

In addition to being able to use the practical information presented in the study, she hopes that other faculty can view collaboration as a model for working with their students and create published work that addresses other current issues in the field.

“I hope that other people involved in this work will be able to see this as a model of working with their students to investigate problems in qualitative research and keep this kind of group record of these problems because in qualitative research there are so many issues that need to be to decide. to be researched and discussed, “Falter said.” I’m not saying that what we’ve done is the only way to do it, but I think it’s a good example of how it can be done with Ph.D. class students. level ”.

Below is a complete list of doctoral students of the College of Education who are co-authors «Creating a place to increase focus group techniques: opportunities and challenges for novice researchers (during and after COVID-19)».

  • Aaron Arenas, Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Policy and Human Development under the Higher Education Program
  • Chelsea Smith, Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Policy and Human Development under the Higher Education Program
  • Lisa Lamb, a Ph.D. in teacher education and science
  • Tiara Griffith, Ph.D. in the field of teacher education and the science of teacher psychology psychology curriculum
  • Megan Polzin, Ph.D. in teaching and learning in the scientific STEM education program
  • Nada Wafa, a Ph.D. in teacher education and science

Leave a Comment