Students Engaging Students to Improve Learning: Using Student-Led Focus Groups to Gather and Make Sense of Assessment Evidence

A Center of Inquiry Workshop


In November 2016, the Center of Inquiry at Wabash College hosted a workshop on implementing student-led focus groups for the purposes of institutional assessment. This is the sixth workshop we have hosted on this topic since 2008. This workshop saw the return of teams from North Carolina A&T and Pacific Lutheran University, who led some of the training sessions for new teams of faculty, staff, and students from nine different colleges and universities—Beloit College, Bradley University, Illinois Wesleyan University, James Madison University, Marist College, Misericordia University, Oberlin College, Portland State University, and The College of Idaho.

During the workshop, teams worked to specify the issues they hoped to address through student-led focus groups, develop plans for dealing with various challenges, and outline their next steps for implementing focus groups and communicating results on campus. With the help of Teagle Assessment Scholars—Lynn Murray-Chandler (Southern New Hampshire University), Anu Shastri (SUNY Oneonta), Anne Zahradnik (Marist College), and Autumn Harrell (Indiana University and the University of Southern Indiana)—and Center staff, Charlie Blaich and Kathy Wise, the teams were able to establish concrete ideas for moving forward. A series of training sessions, mock focus groups, and team discussions culminated in a poster session on Sunday morning, which allowed teams to discuss their plans and hear feedback from fellow workshop attendees.

Several teams expressed that they came to the workshop without much direction, but felt like they were leaving with an actionable plan. Kevin Dyrland from Beloit said, “We came here because we needed to learn how to do [focus groups] and how to do them well, and that’s what we are walking away with.” Andrea Pope of James Madison University explained that the workshop had given the team members who work on opposite sides of the campus time to come together, outline a plan, and “put boundaries around what we’re doing. We’ve been able to focus on one aspect of a larger project.”

We look forward to following up with the teams to check in on their progress and to hosting future workshops on this topic because we believe that it is essential to include students in assessment work.

Please see our agenda and list of participants, and check the workshop webpage for future workshop dates and topics.