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Focus Groups

Student focus groups are a way to elicit feedback directly from students about their experiences in courses or a program. This layer of student input is deeply qualitative and designed to focus on very specific aspects of the student experience as deemed important by the focus group requestor(s). Our focus group team will work with you to develop a protocol that prompts students on topics and aspects of their experience that you are most interested in exploring.

"The Chemistry Department worked with CETL to survey our freshman general chemistry students. CETL met with us and used our informal discussions to craft questions that would address our areas of interest. CETL secured the facilitators for the focus groups. They did all of this working within a very tight timeline. The best part was the final report. The report was highly detailed and the CETL team went above and beyond pulling out overarching themes that arose from the focus group discussions. These themes have directed our efforts in curriculum reform and resource sharing. I would highly recommend CETL's focus group work."
Dr. Amanda Morris, Department of Chemistry  

We work through a four-step process to develop, execute, and create a report to share with you. This process includes:

  • Step 1: Develop the focus group protocol
  • Step 2: Distribute recruitment materials
  • Step 3: Conduct focus group
  • Step 4: Analyze and report focus group data

The full process takes about 4-5 weeks, from start to finish.

*Note: if the responses from the student focus group will be used for research purposes and require an IRB, please allow ample time for the application, review, and approval process before we conduct the focus group.

There are many ways to elicit feedback from students about their experiences in courses and programs. The focus group is one way to engage larger numbers of students in a more qualitative process to get at the depth of their experiences. Focus groups are ideal for programs that are looking to engage in systemic change, whether that be the design of the curriculum, overhaul of advising structures, or adjustment to the way students progress to degree, along with other program-level aspects. The focus group is also ideal for programs, departments, schools, and/or colleges that have developed either a single course or sequence of courses that serves as a cornerstone for the student experience. As you develop and implement changes to aspects of your program that fundamentally inform the program writ large, a student focus group could significantly contribute to a broader evaluation.

We aim to ask very little of students during the focus group in order to minimize the time but maximize their contributions. Once we have established a time frame for the focus group, our team will build a recruitment strategy, contacting students to participate. They will receive a recruitment email during week one, a reminder email during week two, and meeting information (date, time, location) during week three. The day of the focus group, students will arrive at the chosen location and spend about 45 minutes to an hour with our student facilitators. They will be in small groups, with their peers, and engage in facilitated conversation. The focus group facilitators will take notes, ask clarifying questions, and keep the conversation moving. The names of student participants will only be recorded for attendance and incentive purposes (as decided by the requestor) and names will never be linked to responses, questions, or even small groups.

By requesting a student focus group, you inherently indicate you highly value the student voice, and we want to make sure students are comfortable openly sharing their experiences. Our student focus groups are designed fully around the student and take into consideration their schedules, incentives, communication strategies, and student-centered facilitation methods. Through experience, we have found that students are more willing to talk openly with their peers and, as such, we employ Virginia Tech-student facilitators. These students are trained on focus group procedures, how to manage a protocol, and ways to make students feel comfortable and safe throughout the experience. These students are recruited based on faculty recommendation and vetted for their interest, commitment, and skill prior to training.

Do you know of a student who would do well as a focus group facilitator? Feel free to submit your recommendation here.

If you would like to request a focus group, please complete this form. Our focus group manager will review your request and respond to you within 48 hours whether your request can be filled. Please plan 4-5 weeks, from start to finish, for the focus group process to be completed.


*Note: if the responses from the student focus group will be used for research purposes and require an IRB, please allow ample time for the application, review, and approval process before we conduct the focus group.

Our center offers multiple ways to gather feedback from your students and on your teaching. Our most prominent methods are:

  • Mid-semester feedback
  • End-of-semester feedback
  • Peer teaching observation

Please review our website for more information about those options and how to request those services.