How to ‘Pin Down’ Busy Higher Education Students

Student participation is inextricably linked to most educational research and those related to various aspects of teaching and learning. This may involve a single student or many, depending on research focus and intent.

Advantages to using students in research may include the fact that they are easily accessed especially if you are the teacher and are using your students as research participants. There are a number of students in an educational institution, therefore, the opportunity to engage in relatively large-scale research projects. Researching with students in one own class or educational institution facilitate easy follow-up sessions. Students also bring varied perspectives and are from varied backgrounds which could potentially lead to rich data.

Despite these advantages, one key challenge is ‘pinning them down’. By this I mean, not just getting their consent and promise to participate as interviewees or respondents, but their actual involvement. During the data collection phrase utilizing students has participants there are 4 strategies I employ in the pinning down process.

Pinning down strategy 1: Link data collection to scheduled lessons.

A key feature of this strategy involves incorporating interviews or questionnaire distribution and completion during lessons that I teach. I also solicit the help of colleagues to do the same at a convenient time during their teaching/lectures. In using this strategy I plan interviews before or after students’ scheduled lectures. This is especially useful when employing a focus group data collection method. I have found that students getting ready for, or leaving a lesson are in ‘learning mode’ and seem mentally ready to answer research-related questions. It is also important to keep these sessions within the advertised length.

Pinning down strategy 2: Link data collection with students’ availability.

Find out from potential student participants, what time is convenient and schedule the interview as appropriate. This strategy is most important if they are not in your class and also decreases the drop-out or ‘no show’ rate. This, however, must be accompanied by timely reminders. After setting and agreeing the date and time send a reminder a week or few days before the actual event. Use emails, texts, calls, social media (as appropriate).

Pinning down strategy 3: Use an alternate format.

Given the pervasive nature of the internet and online environments and students use of these, the use of an alternate format e.g. survey monkey, or ones built-in the University’s Learning Management System or Virtual Learning Environment is a sure way of getting their actual engagement in the research, not just a promise to do so.

Pinning down strategy 4: Reward participation.

Some students participants like to know ‘what’s in this for them’ so strategy number 4 is to offer an incentive, for example, a gift certificate (if appropriate). However in some of my studies using student participant they were willing to participate as long as I gave clear information about the time commitment and some freely gave of their time because they were contributing to a bit of research that they value.