Thursday, 19 March 2015

Reflecting on the pilot interview

On Tuesday, three of the student researchers were able to conduct a pilot interview of two Year 9 students. Part of the agreement was that the students would not appear on film, so the students pointed the video-camera at the floor while conducting the interview. They asked the ten questions which we had devised as a group, in roughly the same order that they appeared on the sheet.

Today we met to watch the footage back and discuss what we've learnt from the experience. I also showed them some footage from my own pilot, and we went through each one critically, looking at sound, angle, etc. To start, the students mentioned that the sound quality wasn't very good. You could clearly hear them (or me) asking the questions, but it was sometimes hard to hear the respondents. When I asked them how we could fix this, they suggested that we move the camera closer to the interview subjects. Eventually, we came to the decision that if students don't want to appear on camera we should place the recorder face up on the table. This way, we can clearly hear what they are saying. If students agree to be video-recorded, then we discussed seating the respondents side-by-side and setting the camera clearly in front of them on a tripod. The interviewers themselves don't have to appear on camera, and can be sat to the side of the camera itself.

Another issue that the group brought up was that one of the two interview subjects really dominated the conversation. I am glad this happened in the pilot, as it is a common problem with group interviews. They described using some of the prompting techniques I had taught them, but found that the dominant person still managed to speak for the other student. Again, I asked the students how they could fix this problem. One of the girls suggested knowing the names of the students they were interviewing ahead of time, so that they could personally address questions towards them. We agreed that this was a good technique to use, so I assured students that they would know the names of the students they would be interviewing; I can also use the school behaviour module to show them a picture of the students before-hand, so that they know exactly who is who.

A third issue was that they discovered some of the questions required 'yes/no' responses (which I knew was going to be the case; however, because I wanted the students to devise the questions, I didn't want to influence their choices too much by pointing this out), which didn't always invite much discussion. However, they immediately described using some of the prompt questions to try and dig for more detailed responses.

Similarly, they felt that through the conversation, some of the later questions became repetitive or redundant; because this was their first experience interviewing other people, they stuck to the questions and asked them all, despite this. In our discussion, I told them that they should use their professional judgement in these types of situations; if they think that they've already addressed a question once, they don't need to ask it again. They seemed pleased with this - I think perhaps they were afraid of missing things out if they left questions off, but once I explained that they are essentially in control, that they're the experts once they're in the room and they can use their own discretion, they felt more confident.

Finally, they described how the students seemed to focus on feedback in English lesson. I asked them why they thought this might be. One student suggested that it was because the students knew that I was involved, and that I was an English teacher; their responses may have been focused on English because that's what they thought I wanted to hear. Another suggested that it was because the interviews themselves took place in an English classroom (not my own, but the Head of Departments). Again, this could be an influencing factor, and is one that I hadn't previously considered. The third student suggested that perhaps English was a subject where they received the 'best' feedback, or one where they clearly recognized feedback for what it was. Again, this could be the case, and it will be interesting to see what comes up in the real interviews.

To address these issues, we decided to add a statement at the beginning of the interview informing students that the questions are meant to be about feedback in ALL of their lessons, across the school. Hopefully this will take away any desire to focus on English to please me or due to associations with the setting.

Overall, it was a really good learning experience; if we had more time, I would have them conduct another pilot interview. However, as their time at the school is running out, our first set of interviews will take place next week! How exciting!