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57 7¥¥ Conducting Evaluation Interviews JORGE MÉNDEZ SEIJAS, JANIRE ZALBIDEA, and CRISTI VALLEJOS THE NUMBER OF INTERVIEWS that take place in the media and in other areas of our lives may give the impression that interviews are straightforward and easy to conduct (Patton 2015).While interviews may appear similar to natural conversation, they must be carefully planned and implemented so that the information they elicit is useful for evaluation purposes. To help evaluators conduct productive evaluation interviews, this chapter provides guidelines for (1) identifying when interviews are an appropriate data-collection tool; (2) distinguishing among the different types of interviews available for evaluation purposes; and (3) planning, designing, and conducting a successful interview. Evaluation Interviews Interviews are an effective tool for evaluation since they collect information on the perspectives of those most knowledgeable about the program—staff, students, and other invested stakeholders. Interviews can be defined broadly as a type of conversation (Kvale 1996), though one that is purposeful and has the particular aim of collecting information relevant for a program evaluation project. The purpose of conducting interviews is to have individuals report on their beliefs, opinions, abilities, and perceptions of the educational processes happening within their program (Kvale 1996; Patton 1990). To these ends, the interviewer must play the role of attentive listener (rather than equal participant) and draw out honest, unbiased, thoughtful responses from the interviewee on a particular topic. To be effective,an evaluation interview must be planned and organized in a systematic way. An important aspect of evaluation interviews, then, is that they must collect information on project indicators (see chapter 4). Again, the purpose of identifying indicators prior to data collection is to specify and clarify the particular types of evidence relevant for answering evaluation questions and facilitating evaluation uses. Creating interview questions that are unrelated to evaluation indicators (and questions and uses) risks collecting information unrelated to evaluation aims. 58 Jorge Méndez Seijas, Janire Zalbidea, and Cristi Vallejos When to Use an Interview Interviews are similar to focus groups in that respondents give their views via spoken comments. Like focus groups, the interviewer can probe the interviewee for additional information, ask clarification questions, and explore particular ideas, all of which leads to greater and richer detail in the interviewee’s responses. In this way, interviews provide an opportunity to explore complex educational processes from the point of view of a program insider. Interviews, then, are effective for exploring why and how things are happening in a program, which can be useful when stakeholders want to identify instructors’ or students’ teaching or learning needs, or better understand why particular aspects of the program are “effective” or“useful,” or—when a program is not functioning as expected—identify what should be done to change and improve it. When an evaluation project calls for these types of complex issues to be explored in depth, interviews can be an effective data-collection option. Of course, interviews differ from focus groups in important ways, which may lead to choosing one tool over the other. As noted in chapter 6, information collected from focus-groups comes from discussions between multiple participants and is the by-product of group dynamics. Interviews, by contrast, are one-on-one interactions, with just the interviewer and interviewee participating in the conversation. As such, interviews may offer more privacy so that informants can speak more openly and honestly about their opinions. A more private set of circumstances may be desirable when participants are prompted to speak on sensitive topics. Relatedly, interviews may suit shy individuals or informants otherwise reluctant to share their views in front of other people. In addition, interviews can be an effective (and sometimes the only) way to collect the views of particular individuals. For example, interviews can be useful with expert informants better able to elaborate on program processes within a one-on-one scenario. People in positions of leadership are also good targets for an interview. Managers and supervisors often have particularly well-informed views, though such individuals may be few in number and may not have sufficiently flexible schedules to participate in a focus group. When particular individuals have specialized knowledge and especially valuable views to impart, the one-on-one aspect of interviews lends itself well to collecting information from these informants. These advantages notwithstanding, certain practical considerations should be borne in mind when considering interviews for data collection. Carrying out interviews requires a nontrivial amount of time, effort, and human resources compared to questionnaires or...


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