My research is focused on physical activity among adolescents. As part of my MSc research, I have had the opportunity to carry out focus groups with adolescents in post-primary schools.
I have had the experience of carrying out the focus groups online and I have also completed focus groups in-person at the schools. In today’s digital society we rely on online interaction, but how does this compare with real life face to face interaction? In this blog I will discuss my perspective of how carrying out focus group online compares to in-person focus groups.
When carrying out the focus group on the school grounds I personally experienced the ambience of the school environment. This is something that is more challenging to experience when carrying out the focus groups online. From arriving at the school to walking to the focus group location I can observe the school environment and surroundings. This can provide me with context of the school which is useful to understand when asking questions to adolescents about their experience of school life. Being in the school facilities provides me a with a deeper understanding of participants perspectives and school culture.
Meeting members of the school community when visiting in person provided me with social context of the school environment. Furthermore, noticing interactions among school staff and students provided insights into relationships within the school community. When I carry out focus groups online this experience is limited which makes it more difficult to understand the students’ perspectives.
When posing questions and initiating discussion among students I found being in the same room as the students helped me to sense their energy and attitude. In-person focus groups provide an opportunity for me to observe participants non-verbal behaviour such as gestures and body language. I also found it easier to get a sense of the dynamics within the group. This made it easier for me to understand their reactions to questions allowing me to determine the best way to prompt and direct the focus group according to their needs. When asking questions to students online I find it harder to gauge their reactions and pick up on their non-verbal cues.
Although personally I prefer in-person focus groups, there is no doubt that we are privileged to have the option to use online resources to carry out focus groups. Online focus groups provide flexibility and convenience when lack of time and geographical location can pose challenges. We must accept that technology will have a role in the future of communication. Although online focus groups offer many benefits, it cannot compare to the value and advantages that comes with real life interpersonal interactions.
Kathleen McNally is a first year MSc student in Physical Activity for Health, in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, UL. She is supervised by Professor Catherine Woods, Assoc. Professor Elaine Murtagh and Dr. Kwok Ng. Kathleen has a BSc in Public Health and Health Promotion (Atlantic Technological University Sligo, 2021-2022) and a BSc in Health Science and Physiology (Institute of Technology Sligo, 2018-2021).
Contact: Kathleen.Mcnally@ul.ie. Follow on twitter: @Kathleenmcn Research Profiles: Linked-In: Kathleen McNally