The matrix interview guide

Back in June, when I was attending IRDL, I spent time to develop our interview questions. Initially, I created a standard interview guide. I had a series of questions that I planned to ask in the exact same order. However, as I worked on the guide, and reviewed our textbooks, I realized that this standard format might be too rigid for what I was hoping to do. If I asked the same questions over and over for each experience, an hour long interview would get pretty repetitive with students. When I stumbled across the matrix interview guide, I had a little eureka moment.

A matrix interview guide allows you to have a series of questions, that can be asked in any order, based on the participant’s responses. It creates a less structured format, but does allow the freedom and flexibility I was searching for. In addition, it makes the data harder to compare, since the participants are not getting the same questions in the same order. This comparison isn’t as important to me, because an assumption I have going into this project is that each journey map will look different. A matrix interview guide, therefore, allows us to celebrate that variation and learn more about the student engagement experiences. My initial matrix, made in LA, had several categories I wanted to explore, including discovery, motivation, learning, emotion, help, expectations, and information literacy.

Once Ally joined the team and we started to conduct practice interviews, we realized that a few categories of questions were not as relevant as I originally had thought back in June. Things like emotion, help, and expectations were all wrapped into the other categories and sometimes, asking those questions made the interview stall, since they weren’t as natural as the other questions being asked. Ultimately, Ally and I removed those three categories, added a question about help to the big picture questions at the end of the interview, and fine-tuned the matrix. Now that we’re six interviews in, we feel good about the types of questions we are asking, and are seeing great responses from it.

As I’ve been working on this project, I’ve realized that this method could be used at other institutions. In creating the questions, they are not explicitly tied to Penn State’s definition of student engagement and therefore, we can get a lot of mileage out of the matrix. I have also thought a lot about Johanna Vuori’s article where she uses the snowball technique to understand definitions of student engagement. Spoiler: the article confirms that even within institutions, there are different definitions of what “student engagement” means. I’m know that for those that work with student engagement, that discovery is not new or ground breaking. But in thinking about that article, and remembering that while we, as individuals and institutions, might define that phrase differently, our questions around these experiences are the same. We want to know how students discover these opportunities, why they are motivated to pursue these things (especially if the opportunity was challenging), and what they learn in the process. I think that’s the strength of this matrix guide; it allows us to explore those ideas, while allowing our own institutional definitions to guide the journey map that is created.

A legend with the 10 opportunity types and sticker colors
Our 10 opportunity types, the variations within each type, and the corresponding sticker color.

In the spirit of sharing and collaboration, I include a PDF of our current matrix interview guide. To go along with this interview guide is our legend for our definitions of student engagement opportunities, and the sticker colors we are using as the students create their maps.








Source mentioned

Vuori, J. (2014). Student engagement: Buzzword of fuzzword? Journal of Higher Education Policy & Management, 36(5), 509–519.

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Head of Education & Outreach Services at Northern Kentucky University. When she's not in the library, Hailley is an avid oatmeal connoisseur, baseball scorekeeper, bike rider, embroidery queen, and reader of memoirs. Check her out on Twitter @hailthefargoats.

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