Playful methods of gathering data on ‘hard to reach’ students
During our REACT project, we experimented with a range of engaging methods to gather information on who the ‘hard to reach’ students were and what barriers they faced in engaging. The idea was to try to reach some of the students that might not normally respond to a survey or attend a focus group and to get them to think more creatively about their experiences as a student.

Video: UCLU Education Conference - Mariam Mirza interview

What methods did you try?

We tried the following methods: Ketso, which is a method of getting information from groups by taking them through an iterative process of thinking, based around mind maps.

Box method - using storytelling, music and creative constructionist techniques in an informal, supportive and fun environment. Through the workshop which used storytelling and music, students told of their arrival at UCL and shared their feelings and experiences by writing those on the outside of small cardboard boxes, hiding notes inside with more personal or private thoughts that they wanted to let us know about but didn’t want to have on show. The session was run over lunchtime during the last week of term 2016 and we provided refreshments.

Doll method -using cardboard cutout paper people. Students were told this represented them and were asked ‘ What makes a student hard to reach?’. This was run in a busy thoroughfare at UCL during a lunchtime in January when the Shape Your Education Fair took place.

Psychological profiling survey with questions about engagement – in order to make an otherwise normal survey more fun and engaging, we began it with questions to allow participants to determine their personality type out of the “Big Five” and to therefore determine which Star Wars character they were. The survey was incentivised with a Star Wars Lego print and tickets to see the Star Wars exhibition at the O2.

How successful were they?

Box method: 18 people came and they stayed for more than 2 ½ hrs although the workshop had been advertised as being an hour (although it was raining very hard that day and they may have stayed to keep dry!). We had an excellent response from students with 76 separate pieces of detailed feedback about their first impressions and experiences of UCL.

Doll method: 16 people stopped by the stand participated sharing their thoughts about the statement ‘what makes a student hard to reach?’ Considering the relative depth of the question we were asking in a really busy route through college at lunchtime - managed to get quite a few comments – most of which was insightful and relevant.

What contexts are required for them to work?

Box / paper people Very little! Just some cheap stationery and craft type items, a room and refreshments.

Key benefits to students

Box / paper people: Pretty much guarantee no one done anything like this before - a unique experience to share personal experiences with the ability to remain anonymous in a supportive, creative and fun way.

Key benefits to the University

Box/ paper people methods - easy to set up, super cheap, very effective and produces copious amounts of feedback. Can be used for any topic or question.

Key benefits to the sector

Box / paper - as already shown