Interviewing students on their (blended) learning experience

“It is crucial to keep uppermost in one’s mind the fact that the interview is a social, interpersonal encounter, not merely a data collection exercise”.
John Creswell (2012)

PATH IN THE WOODS.

I’ve just completed the fifth of five student interviews as part of my doctoral studies into the student experience of blended learning. I hope to do a couple more, but this being the end of the academic year, my emails to students inviting them to join me for a chat are not finding a response. So I may have done all of my data collection. Time to think about how this part of the data collection has gone.

All my interviews have been semi-structured. I’ll possibly go into the reasons for that elsewhere. It’s been like going for a walk in the woods, hoping that of the different tracks criss-crossing the forest floor in different conversations there may be convergences, clearings where the light is a little brighter. Hoping that by keeping a record of the journeys, each with a different partner, a pattern may emerge which is worth mapping for other travellers looking to venture this way.

The semi-structured approach meant that the interviews were loose enough for us to explore themes as they arose, with me using a list of questions to steer us towards my research focus if I felt we had wandered too far. The wandering itself was engaging and at times beguiling.  I found the process of mentally widening my focus from the conversation to my research question to check whether this might or might not be a fruitful direction difficult, perhaps rude. I imagine it’s something that feels less mechanical and gets easier with practice.

Having a list of questions to refer to certainly helped with this and as the interviews went on, I got a sense for which questions would work best at a certain times. Sometimes the questions served to return to a topic we had already touched on to elaborate or add to or think again about what had already been said and I would introduce them as such: “I think we’ve talked about this already….”.

It’s been hugely enjoyable and illuminating. I guess students won’t volunteer to be interviewed about their learning unless they think they might have something to say and feel fairly comfortable about saying it. I was struck throughout by their generosity and willingness to respond to my nudging towards the specific area of their experience concerning the “blend” where online and face-to-face experience blurs into one learning experience. At times participants have expressed their experience with such clarity and originality that I’ve wanted to cheer and punch the air. Presuming this not to be appropriate, I refrained. Maybe I shouldn’t have. Instead I thanked them and promised to send a draft of how I use their interview before I present my thesis.

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