For over six decades, focus group discussions have been a popular and effective methodology for qualitative researchers. Focus group interviewing is a specific type of post-positivistic qualitative research that uses groups of people and a set of predetermined questions directed to a specific conversation to elicit valuable data. Traditional focus groups are conducted face-to-face with participants and moderator all at the same venue. In the past 20 years, Internet technologies have given rise to online focus group discussions. However, as the method of conducting online focus groups has increased, scant research exists in the literature wherein optimal practices are examined in an effort to work toward a standardized form of the approach. This mixed methods dissertation study advances the field of online qualitative research toward a clearer understanding of the online asynchronous focus group methodology in answering the key research question: What is the optimal size for online asynchronous text-based focus group discussions? Using a comparison of online focus groups conducted in an evaluation of a PK-12 educator professional development workshop, it examines the yield differences of group size for six variables of interest: depth of discussion, breadth of discussion, retention rates, participant interaction, adherence to topic, and disclosure of sensitive information. Additionally, comparable qualitative data were analyzed in two areas: participant reactions and researcher/moderator notes. A total of eight online asynchronous text-based focus group discussions were conducted in the evaluation, each with the researcher as moderator and each normalized with the same questions, moderator interaction, and length of time. Three focus groups were classified as small (4-6 participants), three as medium (10-13 participants), and two as large (17 participants). In total, 84 educators (teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and support staff) completed the four days of online discussion, answering questions about the workshop they attended. In addition, participants responded to a discussion question regarding experiences in the online focus group and completed a post-discussion survey. Analysis of transcripts, notes, survey results, content, and statistics showed significant differences exist between the three treatment sizes. Medium-sized groups were found to be the most optimal of the treatment groups. While large groups yielded similar content results, the participant feedback and researcher indicated the large treatment was more taxing on them for what resulted in a similar net yield of data. Small groups were lacking in interaction and the depth and breadth of text-based conversation of either of the larger groups. Small group participants and the researcher also noted frustrations of the smaller group.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. November 2014. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Aaron H. Doering. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 170 pages, appendices A-F.
Hatten, James Edward.
Optimal size for Online asynchronous text-based focus group discussions: a mixed methods study.
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