Achieving Success with Student Focus Groupsby Shelly Stringer
ESTIMATED READING TIME: 2 minutes
All website redesigns begin with a thorough discovery phase at mStoner.
During discovery, the groups we most often talk with include a core project team, leadership, marketing and communications, information technology, admission, and student and faculty groups. Through this process, we learn about people’s perceptions of your institution, as well as your institution’s strengths, challenges, and opportunities. Feedback from each internal stakeholder group provides us with valuable insights that help inform our recommendations around web strategy, content strategy, information architecture, personas, and design.
All of this sounds pretty straightforward, right? Preparing well for a successful discovery phase is often much more time-consuming than anyone anticipates. It requires a lot of preparation and planning, especially when it comes to conducting successful student focus groups. Here are some valuable insights that I’ve learned during my time at mStoner.
Tips for Successful Student Scheduling
- Invite early. Compile a list of students to invite as soon as you know that you are going to conduct student focus groups. The sooner you can reach out to the students, the better. It often takes three attempts before they will respond to your requests, so you will need as much time as possible to lock in your focus group participants.
- Over invite. If you need 10, invite 15-20 and perhaps even ask them to invite a friend. Rarely does everyone accept the invitation to attend a student focus group. If you are one of the lucky ones who has an unusually positive response rate — the more the merrier! We like to keep these groups to about 10-12 students, but if more show up, no harm done.
- Be inclusive. Speaking to a wide range of students gives us insights into a wide range of perspectives. While it’s tempting to invite only those students who are very involved and active on campus, it is important to reach out to students of many kinds. We also want to talk to students at various stages of their education, so don’t forget to invite first-year, undergraduate, and graduate students. Each of these student segments offers a different and valuable point of view.
- Time it right and keep it short. Be aware of time periods that will make it difficult for certain student groups to attend. For instance, steer clear of trying to schedule a focus group time that overlaps with classes that a majority of freshmen attend. Students’ schedules are busy, so do not schedule a focus group for any longer than one hour. We find that 45 minutes is enough time for an engaging discussion, and students don’t feel as though we’ve interfered with too much of their days.
- Food for thought. Let’s face it, we all enjoy a little food along with our conversation! Students are often more likely to join a student focus group that offers lunch or an afternoon snack. Often, scheduling a focus group over a lunch break works well, if students can stop by and eat while they share their thoughts.
- Generate excitement. Let students know the university is excited about embarking on a website redesign, and their input is a valuable and appreciated step to achieve this goal.
Ask the Right Questions
So, we finally have our student focus groups scheduled and our participants confirmed. What is it that we want to know? The questions asked should range from general perceptions of the university, to impressions about the student experience, to specific thoughts about the website. With the right students and the right questions, you are off to a successful student discovery!