Studying students’ experience using guerrilla research. What worked and what didn’t.
Guerrilla research is my preferred method of gathering user insight. It is quick and easy to put together the study and it costs very little to execute. This week I was at the University of West England (UWE) in Bristol to study how students approach academic research.
The university campus is quite big and buzzing with people. It was really easy to find a large, bright and inviting cafe where we could set up the interview station.
We did the majority of interviews in the cafe near the library, which turned out to be the biggest and most popular break area. We had a couple of interviews in the students’ union too, but we quickly found that this space was more popular with male students.
The time of day
We planned our visit to UWE so that we have the entire day for interviews but we manage to get the most done around lunchtime. In the afternoon there were less lectures so suddenly after 14:00 there were no students around to interview.
Having a small team of researchers with a fairly minimal setup was of a great benefit. We blended into the environment and students thought we were students too.
Talking to a stranger
Have you ever found yourself sharing with strangers more than what you would with your closest friends or family? Talking to a stranger feels easier because you are not under pressure to say or do the right thing. This is know as the social desirability bias.
Using Guerrilla instead of other types of research helped us minimise the effect of the social desirability bias. We got some invaluable insight into the students’ experiences as they were happy to share with us.
We spoke with students from a range of courses and interests. From first year airspace engineer to third year law student, we managed to capture the diverse experiences of academic research.
Doing the research in a University setting made it very easy talking to respondents from diverse background without the need to do participant’s screening prior to the research.
What didn’t work as expected
Students need encouragement
I was somehow expecting that there will be a queue of people waiting to talk to us tempted by the free drink offer, but that wasn’t the case. We had to actively approach people and ask them if they wanted to talk to us.
Offering a cup of coffee had to be quickly replaces with just a drink. We discovered that not all students drink coffee and hot chocolate turned out to be a much better incentive.
Some of the participants also struggled to accept the free drink in exchange to their time. We had to insist that it was a fair reward for their contribution.
In retrospect, I thought that offering a voucher instead of buying the drink after each interview, might have worked better.
We also found that when approached by a female researcher some guys felt very disappointed it was for a research.
One of the students asked for the researcher’s number and another one offered to buy her a drink.
As much as we thought that was funny, it is also very important that people participate in the research for the right reasons.