Feeling able to say it like it is: A case for using focus groups in programme evaluation with international cohorts
Abstract In today's cost- and efficiency-conscious environment there may be resistance amongst HEIs to use informal verbal approaches to programme evaluation, such as focus groups, due to their resource-intensive nature. There may also be a lack of confidence amongst staff working with international cohorts about having the necessary skills to facilitate evaluative discussion and create an atmosphere of trust and openness. Drawing directly from three years' experience of directing a Finance programme with an international cohort of four to ten students in a UK University, this paper argues that focus groups offer an invaluable source of rich feedback. As the HE sector prepares for the TEF, and Business, Management and Finance dealing programmes continue to rely on high numbers of international students, this is an opportune time for programme directors to reflect on how their commitment to teaching excellence is evidenced beyond rhetoric and box-ticking. The value of making space for the student voice is not limited to T&L enhancement, but includes: helping students to develop reflective and critical thinking enabling them to negotiate programme changes engaging students with issues concerning their learning experience ensuring that diversity and inclusion are central to discussion agendas forging HEI-students partnership in the learning process. Highlights Focus groups offer a precious source of rich feedback, as shown in this experiment for MSc programme-evaluation in a UK HEI. Focus groups lead to T&L enhancement and also allow students to engage with issues concerning their learning experience. Focus groups help students to develop high reflective and critical thinking and enable them to negotiate programme changes. Focus groups help to ensure that multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion are central to the discussion agendas in a HEI. Focus groups contribute to forge HEI-students partnership in the learning process.
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