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Evaluating Your Efforts:

Focus Groups

Sample Teacher Screener (PDF) | Sample Recruitment Checklist
Sample Confirmation Letter | Sample Discussion Guide Outline

Focus groups can provide you with a range of useful information, from your project's inception through its implementation. They should include representatives of the audiences you have targeted for your educational outreach. If, for example, you are developing a video and companion materials for middle school students, then middle school teachers and/or their students should be in the focus group.

At the front end of a project, you can hold focus groups to help refine your educational objectives. You can discover what participants already know about a topic, what material they already have and what they think they need, and how they envision using different types of information and related materials.

As you are producing your materials, focus groups can comment on the design and clarity of your rough videos, print, or Web sites, evaluating their usability for the intended audience and suggesting revisions. The data you gather can also suggest strategies for distributing the materials to your audience.

Focus Group Procedure

Use the following steps to plan, run, and assess a focus group:

  • Identify purpose and audience
    What do you want to know? Who are you trying to reach? Include a mix of both "first adopters" and those who are typically slow to adopt innovations. You can determine these types when you screen potential participants.

  • Develop screener document (See Sample Teacher Screener (PDF))
    This document is designed to help you select a well-rounded group that is consistent with the audience for the project. The screener is a questionnaire that shouldn't take more than five minutes to administer to each potential participant.

  • Recruit participants (See Sample Recruitment Checklist.)
    Allow two to three weeks to recruit. Using the screener, choose participants who demonstrate diversity in the following areas: race; gender; age; length of teaching experience (if relevant); geography (e.g., rural, urban, suburban).

  • Sign up and confirm participants (See Sample Confirmation Letter.)
    Once a participant is signed up, send a confirmation letter. (The ideal group includes eight to 12 participants with diverse backgrounds.)

  • Develop discussion guide (See Sample Discussion Guide Outline.)
    Begin with general questions; then move to more specific probes. For example, you might ask participants: "What topic in science is hard to teach? Why? What would help you?" Then ask: "What aspects of teaching about the cell are difficult? What resources do you wish you had that would help you teach the cell to students?"

  • Plan session logistics
    The more observers in the room, the less comfortable participants will be. If possible, use a room with a two-way mirror so that others on the team can view the discussions taking place. You can also use a video camera or audio recorder to record the event and play it back later.
  • Logistical considerations:

    • A comfortable room
    • A light snack
    • Close proximity to bathrooms
    • Parking
    • Good set of directions
    • Contact person to greet participants with release forms/honoraria
    • Have all viewing materials cued up
    • Burn a CD for Web site testing to avoid technical glitches
    • Table with name tags
    • Assign note-taker from your team to take notes
    • Audiotape and/or videotape the session
  • Run focus group
    Follow the Sample Discussion Guide Outline. Be sure to set ground rules for the group, such as "There is no right or wrong answer; jot down ideas as they come to you; respect other participants' right to speak; stop speaking when the facilitator asks." Answer a question with a question. Allow as many opinions to emerge as possible. STAY ON TIME! It is important to plan out your time and control the discussion in order to complete the entire agenda you have laid out. If there isn't enough time to ask all of your questions, send a follow-up e-mail, although this is less desirable.

  • Debrief informally
    Immediately after the session, ask the note-taker to read the notes aloud. The facilitator and other project participants and observers should discuss the following: "What did we learn? What in our planning was confirmed? What did we find surprising? What seems to be our next steps?"

  • Analyze notes (and/or tapes)
    Within three days of the focus group, type up and then analyze the notes. Look for suggestions for improving your product. For example, you may find that when you showed a clip from a video, the focus group participants seemed confused about the concept. They suggested that a narrative voiceover or a graphic might be helpful. They also suggested that you delete several seconds of discussion that they found extraneous. You may find that participants responded quite favorably to particular aspects of the product. You can list these positive responses to incorporate into promotional material.

  • Write focus group report
    Summarize the following:
    • Recruitment process
    • Participant profiles
    • Information gathered
    • Impact on the original thinking
    • Changes that will be made


In this section:
    Defining Audience
    & Goals

    Collaborating with
    Partners

    Defining
    Educational Content

    Choosing Appropriate
    Media

    Budgeting
    & Scheduling

    Determining
    Rights Needs

    Evaluating Your Efforts

        Finding an Evaluator

>      Focus Groups

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