Focus groups

The focus group interviews conducted in this study aimed to obtain qualitative data, namely the reflections of the participants on the research topic as stated above. According to Wilkinson (2004), a focus group is a discussion group that concentrates on a particular topic. The group is considered focused because ‘it involves some kind of collective activity’ (Kitzinger, 2005, p. 56) with the aim of describing and comprehending ‘meanings and interpretation of a selected group of people to gain an understanding of a specific issue from the perspective of the participants of the group’ (Liamputtong, 2011, p. 3).

In qualitative research, focus group methodology is a useful tool for discovering and examining the stories, experiences, points of view, beliefs, needs and concerns of individuals (Kitzinger, 2005). Indeed, this methodology helps the researcher ‘explore individuals’ diverse perspectives since focus groups fonction within the social network of groups’ (Liamputtong, 2011, p. 5). Serving as a tool that enables researchers to obtain information from a wide choice of topics, from a variety of groups of people and in different contexts (Stewart, Shamdasani & Rook, 2009), the focus group, thus, presents itself as a flexible research technique for obtaining rich and detailed data. The focus group interviews, in addition, may offer shy participants 'a safe environment where they can share ideas, beliefs, and attitudes in the company of people from the same socioeconomic, ethnic, and gender backgrounds’ (Madriz, 2003, p. 364). Also, this methodology' helps save a considerable amount of time since the data that can be collected from two eightperson focus groups is equal to that from ten individual interviews (Fern, 1982). The relatively low cost of using this method is another advantage.

There are, however, several disadvantages to this data collection technique. It has been criticised for offering a shallower understanding of a topic than that collected from individual interviews (Hopkins, 2007; Liamputtong, 2011). Moreover, some participants may dominate and influence the focus group discussion (Liamputtong, 2011). In the context of Vietnam, for instance, older and more experienced people tend to exert more power over the group interaction than younger and less experienced ones. Therefore, they may lead the group discussion and deprive other members of the chance to actively contribute to the discussion.

Based on the characteristics of this data collection method as discussed above, it is considered that the focus group methodology' meets the research focus of this study, which is to explore teachers’ experiences and perspectives about the given topic. The primary consideration for using this method is to ascertain who would be willing to provide the most insightful information. Through volunteering to be recruited in this study, all the participants displayed their willingness and interest in sharing their ideas in the interviews. In fact, all the focus group interviews lasted relatively' longer than the allocated times (see section 5.3). Realising that focus groups have been criticised for certain weaknesses, the researcher pre-tested this methodology both through a trial at Monash University in Australia and a pilot study' in Vietnam. Two focus groups were recruited and engaged in around 60-minute interviews. There was some amount of dominance in presenting opinions from the senior participants, as predicted. This issue was resolved by' signalling each participant’s chance to speak in the focus groups. The interview process, as well as the results of the trial and pilot study, showed that the focus group method worked efficiently and acted as a starting point for the actual data collection.

This present study' employed 6 focus groups of 33 teachers in total. According to Stewart and Shamdasani (2014), the optimum size of a focus group is six to eight participants, but focus groups can be carried out with as few as three and as many as 14 participants. To maintain sufficient opportunities for each participant to speak, the smallest focus group in this study consisted of four teachers whilst the largest had seven. The profiles of each group are described in detail in section 5.3.

Individual interviews

In order to enhance data richness, this study employed individual interviews in addition to focus groups. Individual interviews are considered the most popular strategy' for data collection in qualitative research (Creswell, 2013; Sandelowski,

2002). They are used to gather detailed accounts of a single participant’s thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and knowledge related to a given matter (Creswell, 2013). It is generally believed that if the interview questions are correctly formulated, the participants’ responses will reflect reality (Creswell, 2013).

Individual interviews can be structured or semi-structured depending on context (Dornyei, 2007). In this study, semi-structured interviews were used to create a relaxed environment for the discussion of the topic. The structure was supplied by a set of four main interview questions, and prepared in an open-ended format in which the moderator could elaborate on to ensure that the issues were raised in an exploratory' manner. During the session, both closed and open-ended questions were asked to sustain discussion (see Appendix B).

Despite the in-depth data that individual interviews yield, they have several drawbacks. It is quite time-consuming to set up and conduct these interviews. It was found in this study, however, that all 19 individual interviews consumed less time than the focus groups employed. Another drawback is that individual interviews do require a high level of communication skills from the interviewer/moderator. Thanks to the trial and pilot study conducted before the actual data collection, the moderator was able to improve interviewing skills through self-evaluation after each interview session.

Integrating focus group and individual interview data

Due to the strengths and weaknesses of each data collection method, using focus groups and individual interviews in parallel was helpful in exploring the participants’ perspectives to the fullest. The combination of these two independent data collection methods is beneficial to researchers because they may generate complementary' views of the phenomenon (Lambert & Loiselle, 2008). According to Lambert and Loiselle (2008), such a combination can be beneficial for practical, pragmatic reasons. An example of this is that individual interviews may be employed in cases where participants are unable or unwilling to attend a focus group (Taylor, 2005), leading to fewer refusals or withdrawals. In this study, several participants who were not free to attend the focus groups took part in individual interviews.

Another benefit is the use of triangulation to confirm earlier results or to achieve data completeness (Adami, 2005; Lambert & Loiselle, 2008). That was the primary purpose of including both methods in this study. Indeed, each method reveals different viewpoints, contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of the topic and expanding both the breadth and depth of the findings. For instance, one key difference is that focus groups can be employed for the investigation of opinions and beliefs about the topic, while individual interviews are most effective in eliciting personal experiences (Molzahn et al., 2005, as cited in Lambert & Loiselle, 2008). Indeed, Lambert and Loiselle (2008) place special emphasis on the integration of individual interview and focus group data as a productive strategy for an enriched description of both the structure and the essential characteristics of a phenomenon.

To gain the best quality data, this study employed both focus groups and individual interviews to examine teachers’ reflections on the implications of the current status of English for their professions. During fieldwork, where possible, the focus groups were conducted first and then individual interviews were carried out to confirm, verify, or add to the findings. There were, however, for reasons of the convenience of the participants, some individual interviews which were conducted prior to the focus groups. When further clarification of any point was needed, an attempt to contact the relevant participant was made. Indeed, the researcher contacted half of the participants for further thoughts on ideas noted in the interviews.

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