Garrett Colón

Title: Matters of Perspective: Making the Most of Data from Program Assessment Focus Groups

Abstract: When we figure how programmatic goals and student outcomes are situated as part of the bigger picture for a “successful” writing program, managing the data that might yield some hopeful answers can be a challenge to navigate. While focus groups continue to be a useful means for assessment initiatives, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that researchers are strategic and deliberate about how to collect and manage data, so as to have it be useable. As with much work of this nature, there are hurdles to jump through. Having an understanding of how such a process might operate in our contexts as educators of writers and writing programs can begin to clear the path for such a research endeavor. While there are many ways to come to some measure of resolution in this ongoing work, however temporary, I trust that I can bring at least one perspective to the table that might be generative for thinking about focus group data and making that data work to serve a given purpose.

Between the academic years of 2016 and 2017, I—alongside faculty—undertook an assessment case study at our current institution. Focus groups were organized with former Professional Writing students, toward gathering data relevant to their experiences in the program. Embedded in conversations around curriculum, coursework, research activities, and more, the devised report of this data has been productive for painting a portrait of those student experiences, capturing significant moments of overlap, as well as outliers that are inherently individual. I’d like to offer a way of thinking by proposing a conversation around the approach taken in collecting and following through with our data as an avenue for inquiry into assessing an undergraduate writing program. We set out to perform this work with a set of goals in mind, which would come to influence how we made use of the data to somehow represent those goals. Negotiations over face-to-face versus online groups, uses of coding, video recording, and transcript analysis each speak to the ways in which our approach gave rise to the kinds of details we were looking for.

The International Conference on Writing Analytics is a space where discussions will emerge around the affordances of specific approaches to data mining and the purposeful use of data intended for goals situated on continued program development. Our work captures specific experiences, as they belong to individual students, offering substantial commentary on the ways in which formers students continue to utilize their Professional Writing education in a vast range of industries and workplaces. Placing our assessment goals for the Professional Writing program, in parallel with our use of the data gathered, should continue to offer practical considerations for how focus group data might be utilized and communicated. As such, this will open an opportunity for negotiating how to approach data collection and how to make the most use of your data beyond the focus group stage.