- Douglas Adams
To help students build their background knowledge of a course topic, we most often rely on readings, lectures and presentations, and other “curated” experiences. Challenging students to interview others, however, is an under-utilized learning experience that lends authenticity and relevance to coursework. While interviews are often a key data generation strategy for qualitative or mixed methods research studies, they can also be useful as class assignments or projects as well.
Key features of the strategy
Interview activities work well with content that can be enhanced or extended through conversations with others outside the classroom. Whether they be experts or simply a “man on the street,” eliciting information, opinions and ideas with others can be a powerful learning tool for students.
For interview assignments to be helpful for students, we need to prepare them to conduct effective interviews. Students need guidance on how to select possible subjects, approach them, and, if necessary, ask for their consent. They need to determine a focus of the interview and prepare a set of questions to guide the meeting along with possible follow-up or probing questions. Students need to understand that effective interviews build from familiar or more surface level information to more complex, personal, or controversial topics. One helpful strategy to prepare students for effective interviews is to have them view and critique example interviews available online. They can often learn a great deal by seeing how more experienced interviewers approach the task.
The course content and the interests of the students will largely determine the focus of the interviews and possible subjects. It’s difficult, therefore, to provide a template for the ideal interview assignment or project. The following examples, however, may provide you with some ideas.
Examples and Variations
Different Approaches to Interviews
The Media Commons at Penn State University offers helpful guidance on interviewing as a learning experience. This resource offers suggestions on how to prepare for an interview, different techniques for capturing interview footage and a step-by-step process to prepare for, set up and conduct an interview for a variety of purposes. This resource is a helpful support for students conducting almost any form of interview for a class project.
Interviews with subjects who have lived through a specific historical event are wonderful learning experiences for students in the social sciences. Through an oral history interview, students can delve deeper into a lived experience of history and begin to understand how perspective and point of view influences one’s view of the past. In his course “Crossing Over: Latino Migrant Roots and Transitions.” Dartmouth Professor Lourdes Gutiérrez Nájera challenged her students to develop rich, written oral histories of Latino immigrants to the United States. The project, The Dartmouth Latino Oral History Project, offers detailed information on the structure and assessment of the project as well as students’ work from three sections of the course.
“Man on the Street” Interviews
When students are studying a social phenomenon, the impact of political or economic policy, or reactions to a current event topic, interviewing random citizens can provide an interesting learning experience. In sociology, business, government, and education courses, students can benefit from collecting data about a course topic through a short, highly structured interview of random passersby. Students can then pool the data they have collected for further analysis. In an American Government course, for example, students can conduct exit polls of voters as they leave the polling place on a particular issue. The same kind of interview could be conducted outside a screening of a controversial movie or at a political rally. These kinds of experiences can provide students an opportunity to grapple with multiple perspectives around complex issues.
Connections to 21st Century Skills and Technologies
As students conduct interviews, they can develop their ability to construct knowledge, an important dimension of 21st century learning design. Through interviews, they go beyond curated and edited sources like textbooks and have to grapple with the complexity of lived experience. They often must translate and/or apply what they’ve learned from the text or course lectures to different contexts – a key skill in the knowledge construction domain.
Digital cameras, audio and video recorders are helpful tools for interview experiences. Through the built in apps on their mobile phones or higher quality stand-alone devices, students can capture high quality material that they can then either transcribe or utilize in their course projects. The simplicity of both desktop (e.g., Windows Live MovieMaker or Apple’s iMovie) and Web-based video editing tools (e.g., WeVideo), allows students to easily edit, export, and post content from their interviews. This rich media content can add depth and authenticity to student work that can enhance written text.
What strategies have you used to encourage students to explore topics in your classes?
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