As part of the hands-on experience of the Design-based Research course, the students in the class conducted a focus group to test the web-app prototype of the an iPhone app that was designed and developed by the course instructor and some of his students. Actually, I have never been a part of a focus group before – neither as a researcher nor even as a participant. As a first timer, I didn’t know what to expect or whether it was going to be a successful one. Although we didn’t have very strict protocols to follow, everything went smooth last night. Total success… We definitely got great feedback from the participants, but that’s not what I want to talk about in this post.
This was a great teaching activity not only for the DBR class but also applicable to any other course that teach research methodologies or techniques. Based on my experiences in other methodology classes I took, I want to mention that providing students with a real opportunity to actually get involved in a data collection process is much more meaningful than asking them to read about the methods and then go out to collect data by themselves. I struggled many times when I had to observe or interview people for a fake research project I created myself. This might be because of my not-so-strong qualitative background. However, I would like to think that a course should be designed so that it will reach out to students with different expertise and backgrounds. Assuming that everyone comes to the course with a research project idea and they are ready to articulate it, collect data on it, analyze it, and write a report on it in one semester does not seem like great teaching to me. But anyways, this is just my general view on how some of the methodology classes are conducted here.
So let’s talk more about the DBR class and why this focus group activity was a great learning experience for the students. Up until yesterday before the focus group, everyone was trying to finalize how we should conduct this focus group. What kind of questions should be asked? How should we introduce the app? Should we even introduce it or let the participants explore it? What kind of instances should we observe and note down? Many of these questions may sound like that should have been answered long time before the focus group day, but this practice all taught us what we do in similar situations and how we deal with it. In theory we all read and know about how focus groups work, but in practice there are so many details that comes to mind maybe in the last minute or so. Last night, with a little guidance everyone took responsibility to run this event successfully. We had some technical difficulties (such as not enough number of iPhones for the participants) but we changed our format a bit to accommodate these difficulties. I guess a valuable lesson was that having a flexible structure helped us last night.
Two of the students were facilitators and three of the students were observers (I was one of the observers). Before the focus group started, the facilitators negotiated their roles, and the observers decided which side of the room they will be focusing on. This activity also created the chance for learning how to negotiate roles in a research group. Nothing the less, we all learned something last night, either it is how to design a focus group activity, or how to conduct one, or how to communicate/negotiate our roles… Maybe not specific to how DBR, but definitely specific to one of the common techniques used in DBR. After this, our group will be focusing on the analysis of the data collected and how to report that in an acceptable DBR format. More to be posted on this topic…