Structured Individual Interviews

Evaluations also use individual interviews to collect qualitative data. Typically, these interviews are recorded for subsequent analysis. This may involve careful note-taking during the interview, audio recording, and subsequent transcription. Due to the time-consuming nature of the data collection and analysis processes, it is unwise to try to collect data from a large sample. Interviews are best used for collecting in-depth data from a relatively small sample of people who are

Table 8.1 Open-ended survey questions

Original item

Problem(s)

Revised item(s)

What additional things should

Two issues in

What additional things should

the school counselors do to serve parents and students better?

the same item

the school counselors do to serve parents better?

What additional things should the school counselors do to serve students better?

What do you consider to be the

Overly complex

What are the most important

primary competencies that the

language

skills that students need to

comprehensive developmental school counseling program should build in all students?

Professional jargon

learn?

What problems have you personally experienced that have kept you from connecting with your child’s counselor?

Bias

How would you suggest we change what we do in order to ensure that parents have better access to counselors?

intentionally selected for their ability to shed important light on the evaluation questions being examined.

Before the structured interview, an interview guide needs to be developed. The guide contains a small number (5-6) of general questions that are aligned with the evaluation question (s) and that will be presented in the same way to everyone. Potential prompts and follow-up questions are planned to encourage all interviewees to give frill, thoughtful responses.The interview questions are sequenced so that the easier, less personal, questions will come first in order to help build rapport. For the sake of efficiency, school counselors need to discipline themselves to avoid letting the interview veer off on tangents (no matter how entertaining and interesting the tangents may be). The purpose of the interview is to gather the necessary information that will be used to answer the evaluation question^) in as efficient a manner as is possible. Table 8.2 provides a sample interview guide to be used with graduating high school seniors to gather data to help answer the evaluation question, “How can college counseling services be improved?”

Focus Group Interviews

Focus groups are efficient and effective ways to collect important evaluation data. When designed and conducted properly, they present an opportunity

Table 8.2 Sample individual interview guide: Interview with graduating high school seniors to gather data to help answer the evaluation question, “How can college counseling services be improved?”

# Question Prompts/follow-ups

1 Can you describe your decisions about

college and how you made them?

2 What college choice-related activities did

you participate in and how helpful were they?

3 What were the most helpful school

activities?

4 What were the least helpful school

activities?

5 What are the most imports things that

counselors can do in addition, or can do differently, in order to be more helpful to students as they make college decisions?

6 Is there anything that I forgot to ask you

that would help me understand better how the school can be of more help to students as they make their college choices?

Probe for involvement of self, family, friends, and school personnel.

If not mentioned, ask about career day, interest inventory, online college information session, family meeting, financial aid/scholarship information, college application sessions.

Prompt for 2nd response if not given.

Prompt for 2nd response, if not given.

Prompt for complete response: do in addition and do differently.

Allow time for thought.

to collect a range of perspectives on important evaluation questions based on a focus-group discussion. According to Denscombe (2007), “a focus group consists of a small group of people, usually between six and nine in number, who are brought together by a trained moderator to explore attitudes and perceptions, feelings and ideas about a topic” (p.115).

A record is kept of the focus-group discussion and analyzed using qualitative analysis procedures.

Focus groups are best used to answer complex evaluation questions where there are likely to be multiple perspectives and where group discussion would likely be helpful in surfacing answers to the questions. For example, focus groups would be an appropriate way to address the evaluation question, “Does the school counseling program have any unintended negative consequences?”

Before a focus group is conducted, the evaluator needs to decide who will be included in the group, how many groups will be conducted, and what questions will be asked to guide the focus group discussion. There is a wide range of opinion about the optimal composition of focus groups (Krueger & Casey, 2000, Bloor et al., 2001). In general, focus groups ought to be homogeneous enough so that members can talk together freely, openly, and honestly, yet be heterogeneous enough so that a wide range of perspectives on the evaluation question is available. In school counseling program evaluations, this will typically mean that a focus group will be composed of students, counselors, teachers, parents, or administrators with the group’s members selected intentionally for their ability to offer a range of perspectives. It may be necessary to convene separate groups to discuss the same questions in order to understand how different stakeholders understand the issue.

Developing a guide for the focus group involved is necessary to help keep the discussion focused on the evaluation question (Anderson, 1998; Bloor et al., 2001). Typically, the guide includes a description of the purpose of the interview, an orienting question, a series of transition questions, the key questions(s), and an ending question. Questions are always phrased in an open-ended fashion. Table 8.3 contains a sample focus group guide with a group of teachers to help address the evaluation question, “Does the school counseling program have any unintended negative consequences?”

BOX 8.1

Qualitative evaluation data can be collected in a wide variety of ways including open-ended surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

Focus groups require lots of discussion time and typically require 1-2 hours. During the interview, the evaluator introduces the purpose of the group and facilitates a group discussion. The evaluator uses group counseling skills to help members express their opinions and ideas, add to each other’s perspectives, challenge each other’s beliefs and conclusions, and identify points of agreement

Table 8.3 Sample focus group guide for teachers addressing the evaluation question, “Does the school counseling program have any unintended negative consequences?”

Purpose

We are here today to identify whether there are any unintended negative consequences for students, teachers, and parents that result from the way we are implementing our school counseling program.

Orienting

Questions

What are the possible ways that students, parents, and teachers are not being served presently?

What are the possible ways that students, parents, and teachers are being harmed?

Transition

Questions

What instances have you seen of students being underserved by the program or even harmed by their interactions with the program?

What instances have you seen of parents being underserved by the program or even harmed by their interactions with the program?

What instances have you seen of teachers being underserved by the program or even harmed by their interactions with the program?

Key Question

What changes could be made in the program to minimize the unintended negative consequences for students, parents, and teachers that we have identified?

Ending

Question

In answering this question today, is there anything we have forgotten to consider that will help improve the school counseling program?

and disagreement. In addition, the evaluator needs to manage the discussion to promote the inclusion of all members by encouraging open communication, drawing out quiet members, managing overly chatty members, and cutting off any comments that may make the conversation seem unsafe for any members. The complexity of this group facilitator role makes it difficult for an evaluator to also keep a record of the conversation. The focus group can be recorded or a second evaluator may participate as a note keeper.

 
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