Conducting Virtual Focus Groups with Distance Adult Learners

How do you reach a completely online population to get insight when you don’t have opportunities to communicate with your users in person?  Assessing library resources and services at a distance holds unique challenges in gathering the data needed for making informed decisions.  Without being able to see people use your resources, how do you know your improvements worked? 

Librarians Jennifer Castaldo and Christine Patterson presented a poster today  at the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference in Philadelphia, PA. This conference is held every two years and focuses on cutting-edge research and best practices for academic libraries from around the world.

Our poster, Making the Connection: Conducting Virtual Focus Groups with Distance Adult Learners, describes how we held telephone focus groups with students from across the U.S. from Excelsior College, one of our partners.  Our department manages the Excelsior College Library and we continually assess our resources and services throughout the year.

Click this excerpt from the poster to view a PDF of the full poster:

©The Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins University

Historically, we relied on online surveys and additional quantitative measures to assess user satisfaction.  We found that the most beneficial sections of the surveys were the comments at the end and we often made decisions based on these comments. Last year, we decided to hold virtual focus groups to gather even more in-depth, qualitative data from our users.   

Much was learned about the process including, best practices for gathering attendees, how to schedule meeting times when students are located in different time zones, techniques for collaborating with the Assessment and Telecommunications units, aspects of facilitation, and specifics about how to properly code transcripts. These findings will act as a springboard for our next assessment cycle. In addition, we found that many of the suggested improvements were ideas that the library was already pursuing and this feedback confirmed the need. 

We look forward to continuing this process and welcome any comments or questions!

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