“You Actually Learn Something”: Gathering Student Feedback Through Focus Group Research to Enhance Needs-Based Programming

Alexandra M Simpson, Laurie Waye


In the spring of 2015, the Centre for Academic Communication (CAC) at the University of Victoria began a series of projects aimed at understanding the needs of undergraduate and graduate students with English as additional language (EAL), with the goal of increasing the effectiveness of the Centre’s programming. The first project, detailed in this article, concentrated on identifying student perceptions and use of the Centre’s programming and aimed to elicit suggestions as to how the CAC could better meet student needs. To do this, we facilitated two focus group interviews consisting of EAL graduate (N=6) and undergraduate (N=4) students. Participants responded that the timing of programming should better reflect their schedules, and that programming should be more discipline specific and better designed for graduate students. They also felt that they did not receive enough critical feedback and that there was a lack standardization across tutorials and workshops. However, the participants also felt that the tutors were helpful, the programming provided a good addition to their studies, and the supports increased their confidence. Two unexpected findings were that, generally, students accessed one kind of programming offered by the Centre, rather than taking advantage of the range of offerings, and that students had misconceptions about the Centre’s offerings and how to use them. It is hoped that this study will help inform other student academic support services about focus group research for the purposes of program evaluation and collecting student feedback. 


Writing centre assessment; focus group research; student needs; evidence-based programming; EAL students

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Copyright (c) 2016 Alexandra M Simpson, Laurie Waye

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