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The purpose of this resource is to share promising practices and approaches to continuing to gather students’ voice and conduct qualitative research in our new virtual world. As colleges pivot to distance learning platforms, learning from students about what is working, what they need, what they hope for, and what they fear is more important than ever! And even more critical is using what is learned to inform and guide action and change.

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Below are a series of questions and their answers, drawn from our experience since our lives dramatically shifted due to COVID-19. Click any question to go directly to its answer.


For more information on this process and for definitions and attributions see our related blog post Equitable Qualitative Research in an #alonetogether World.

1. Should I submit an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application for my research?


To protect human research respondents, many colleges have IRBs that are charged with ensuring that students are not harmed by and know of their rights and available protections. There are often three types of IRB reviews: expedited, exempt, or full.


The following community colleges also have their own IRB, and their websites offer a number of valuable resources:


Do you have examples of IRB-related materials you are willing to share? Please let us know which ones here:

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2. How do I contact students who may only have a smart phone to invite them to participate in research?


A key concern is reaching all students and engaging those who may be less likely to be contacted or volunteer to participate in research. Both text messages and emails are common ways to outreach to students. However, don’t forget that snail mail and a phone call are options as well! Specific strategies include:


  • Sending out a postcard: some students may not have access to Wi-Fi or a mobile device; mailing a notice may help you reach some of these students, if their addresses are up-to-date.

  • Picking up the phone: call students directly; if you don’t want students to have your phone number, set up a Google number to use for research purposes.

  • Becoming a video star: do a short video explaining the why and how of the research, why you want students’ input and feedback, AND what you will do with the information; consider posting to the students’ portal (e.g., Canvas), the college’s Facebook page, or TikTok or other platforms that your students are likely to use.


These online platforms allow you to send texts or emails to a large number of students at once:


  • Remind provides a platform to send text messages to students’ cell phone. Allows two-way communication. Links to other resources can be shared, such as a survey link (

  • SignUpGenius (SUG) is an online tool for group planning and scheduling management that can support scheduling of interviews or possibly a group chat involving a number of different researchers.

    • Confirmation and reminder emails and text messages can be automatically sent out once a student selects a time slot to be interviewed or to participate in a focus group.

    • In a previous study, we used this resource to set up interview slots which included Zoom links that allowed each of the interviews to be recorded and later transcribed.

    • The interviewees who volunteered to participate in an interview received an email from SUG inviting them to select a day and time slot that was most convenient along with the name and contact information for the interviewer assigned.

    • Students and the assigned interviewer received a confirmation email when students responded.

    • A reminder email, and in some cases, a text message was sent to the students the day before and of the scheduled interview (


Do you know of other tools to recruit students for research studies? Please let us know which ones here:

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3. What do I need to consider as I design my research questions and select the most appropriate methodology?


As you outline your questions, consider what terms will resonate with students and speak to their real and lived experiences. How can the questions be kept pithy, clear, and direct? Which questions are most essential based on the goal and purpose guiding your study? The mode of outreach should also influence the types and length of questions asked. For example, consider requesting answers to one or two questions via text, or using a link to a survey if outreach is via email or text messaging. A brief phone call of no more than 30 minutes might provide an opportunity to ask and invite students to answer more detailed questions.

The RP Group, on behalf of the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, prepared a guide to support the colleges’ Guided Pathways inquiry process. This tool provides step-by-step guidance on identifying what you want to accomplish, how to recruit students, the most appropriate method to use to gather student voices, and how to analyze and use your findings to further engage students.

Do you know of other tools to inform the design of research protocols with a focus on equity and cultural responsiveness? Please let us know which ones here:

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4. How do I ensure the questions are culturally relevant and responsive?


Consider asking a few students and colleagues to review your research instruments and provide feedback. Are you using terms that are used by students? Where can jargon be replaced with more straightforward descriptions (e.g., do you not have enough food to eat vs. do you experience food insecurity?).

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5. What data exists to help me determine students’ access to mobile devices?


Key to your work is knowing whether your students have access to devices and Wi-Fi that will allow them to participate in some forms of mobile research.

The following site allows you to search by county and Census tract to determine what percentage of residents only have access to mobile devices:

The Research and Planning Group (RP Group) for California Community Colleges has collected surveys that have been fielded by various community college researchers to learn more about their students’ technology access. Search under Listserv Resources.

Do you know of other data sources that can inform online work and research? Please let us know which ones here:

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6. What are the best tools to use to format and send out a survey, knowing that many students may only have a cell phone?


Be sure that the survey tools you use as able to create forms that can easily be viewed on a mobile device and the free options of the tools will handle the number of respondents you hope to engage. For free unlimited questions, surveys, and number of respondents, Google forms is likely your best option.

  • Google Forms (—many students are using Google for courses and will likely be familiar with the G Suite

  • SurveyMonkey ( allows you to download a QR (Quick Response) code that can be scanned if the respondent has the appropriate app, or use TikTok, a social network app for sharing amateur music videos

Do know of other tools to inform the development and design of surveys and other research protocols? Please let us know which ones here:

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7. What are the best tools to use to conduct an online interview or group conversation with students?


During a recent conversation with sister and fellow researchers about the platforms that students use to stay connected, including hosting virtual parties, two clear favorites emerged:

  • Google Hangouts ( allows students to easily see one another, but only four or five students can be seen at once, and can readily be set up through the G Suite

  • Cisco WebEx ( is free and has not experienced the security issues plaguing Zoom

Zoom ( is another option—if their security issues are addressed (requiring a password will help)—with much more functionality, including breakout rooms, whiteboards, polling function, and visibility of multiple participants at once; however, students have to download the app to use the video function; students can be provided the dial-in number and passcode for phone calls and these conversations can be recorded.

Do you use other tools to conduct interviews or focus groups? Please let us know which ones here:

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8. How do I ensure that students know how to use the technology in advance of the interview or group?


Use the first part of your contact with students to outline how to use the technology, the mute function, and the chat or raise your hand functions. Consider sending a text or email with instructions or having a slide up on the screen when they “arrive” to the conversation outlining a few basic tips. The links below provide examples of slides and videos and other training resources to help you engage students virtually.

Do you have information you provide and how to help students successfully use the technology? Please let us know which ones here:

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9. How do I ensure online platforms such as Zoom stay secure?


Many of you may have heard that Zoom meetings, presentations, and meet ups have been “bombed” or hijacked by individuals who were not invited and who have inserted and shared offensive and racist chat messages, drawings, and videos. Be sure to research how to update your user / host settings and to require a password to make sure this won’t happen to you!

Do you have information you provide and how to help students successfully use the technology? Please let us know which ones here:

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10. How do I handle the consent process when I’m conducting telephone interviews or group conversations online?


In past research, I have provided an overview of the required elements of a consent form at the start of each interview or focus group. For phone interviews, I asked each student to provide verbal consent, confirming that their questions about the study and their participation had been answered, that they understood the benefits and risks of participating in the study, and that they were comfortable being recorded. During focus groups, students are asked to sign an actual form and are offered a copy for their records. I have also sent students a link to the consent form as a Google doc in advance and asked them to review before our scheduled call.

Skyline College’s Institutional Review Board offers resources on the required elements of and an example of a consent form:

Do you have a consent form you would like to share?

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11. What incentives can be offered to students to recognize them for volunteering their time and perspectives?


Given that many people are buying online more than ever, students often request gift cards that allow them to purchase items they may want and need for school. Gift cards that allow students to purchase essentials are a good bet, too! In advance, consider asking your key contact at the college to reach out to students to determine the best incentive. Popular choices are...

  • Amazon gift cards (—we were able to text or email the gift card code to students, which allowed them to purchase items immediately after each interview or focus group

  • Target (—given that many stores have groceries, health and beauty items, clothes, household items

  • Gas or supermarket gift cards—students have also expressed an interest in receiving cards that will allow them to by gasoline or food at a local store

Do you have examples of incentives that can be offered via email or text to students that you would like to share?

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12. How might I go about analyzing and summarizing what I learn?


The following online tools offer a platform for coding your notes, transcribed interviews, or focus groups transcripts to identify key themes and related subthemes:

Collecting Student Voices for Guided Pathways Inquiry and Design, the RP Group resource noted above, also provides some insights on how to lift up key themes from your conversations with students. Anonymous quotes and student profiles (if students offer consent) can illuminate key themes from the research.


Consider asking research participants with particularly compelling stories and experiences that cross multiple themes to partner with you on presenting findings in a public forum. However, be thoughtful about not tokenizing students and ensuring that if you ask for their participation in sharing back research findings, you set the context that their experiences are their own and do not represent the whole of the student population.


Do you have suggestions from your own research about how to analyze and summarize your research findings?

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13. What are some of the ways you have shared your research findings to engage students and others?


Findings can be shared on the college website, on posters, in reports, or slides as part of presentations. Consideration should be given to the main audiences for these findings and the results can be presented in the most engaging way to spark understanding and conversation. The following tools can help you present your findings in user-friendly ways:

Here is an infographic summarizing findings from a series of analyses examining academic outcomes for and focus groups conducted by the RP Group with students participating in Umoja, a student success program that offers a culturally responsive curriculum focused on the legacy of the African and African American Diasporas.

What tools have you used to summarize your findings in ways that are user-friendly for a variety of audiences particularly students? How have you presented data in user-friendly ways?

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In Summary


I realize that the current situation is a quickly evolving one where creativity and innovation are happening every minute of every day. As you learn and grow, please consider sharing what you are learning in the Google documents highlighted here and on Twitter at #VirtualWorldWorking #EquitableQualitativeResearch.


Also, we will provide links to additional resources, workshops, webinars, etc. in the following folder. Please feel free to add to this list.


Reaching students in a virtual space will require thoughtfulness, patience, and persistence to reach those students whose voices are often not heard. Your outreach might need to be continuous, proactive, and take multiple forms, such as emails and text messages and postcards. You may only reach a fraction of students depending on the type and timing of the research activity. Realize that the responses received may be different than those that would result from a face-to-face interaction or as part of a group conversation. Let’s do what we can and be creative while physical distancing keeps us all safe!

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