Ph.D. Student and Thrugood Marshall Fellow, Western Michigan University
Ouen has a Master of Science in Biostatistics and Master of Social Work. Currently, she is pursuing the Interdisciplinary Philosophy of Doctorate in Evaluation at Western Michigan University. Her training from statistics and social work allow her to take either a quantitative, a qualitative, or a mixed-method approach. Ouen has completed evaluations on youth programs, workforce development, minority business leaders, urban farming, and arts and culture.
Your interview environment can promote sharing of stories or deter it. Here are some observations we find helpful to improve communication in virtual settings:
1.Keep your video on, but do not require this of your interviewees. People feel more at ease sharing their stories if they can see the person receiving their information.
2. Keep your background clear of clutter! If this is not an option, test out a neutral virtual background or use a high-quality photo of an uncluttered space of your choice. For example, your office space as a picture background provides a personalized yet professional touch to your virtual setting. Be warned that virtual backgrounds can cut certain body parts out! Test the background, and plan your outfits accordingly (don’t wear green!).
3. Exaggerate your nonverbal expressions a little to ensure that you are not interrupting the people sharing their stories. Additionally, typical verbal cues of attentiveness can cause delays and skips in a virtual setting. Show your attentiveness by nodding a few times purposefully for affirmations instead of saying “Yes” or “Agreed.” Move your body every now and then to assure people that you are listening and have not lost your internet connection.
4. If you have books in the background, turn the spines of the books away. The titles of the books can be distracting and can communicate unintended messages to the interviewees. More importantly, certain book titles can be trauma triggers. If you want to include decorations, use plants. Additionally, you can place your camera facing the corner of a room to provide visual depth.
5. Be in a quiet room free of other people or pets. Noise and movement can distract your participants from concentrating on the interview.
6. Be sure you have good lighting. People depend on your facial expressions for communication. Face a window (do not have the window behind you), or use lamps or selfie rings if you need additional light.
7. On video calls, most people naturally tend to look at the person’s image. So, it’s important to arrange your camera at the proper angle to see the participants on your screen.
On a laptop, place the laptop camera or separate webcam at eye level; this can be accomplished by using a stand or even a stack of books. Tilt the camera down at approximately 30 degrees, and arm’s length away from you. Experiment with the angle to assure a more natural appearance.
If you use a monitor with a webcam, place the webcam at eye level, tilted down approximately 30 degrees, and arm’s-length away from you. If needed, you can use a small tripod.
Whatever your arrangement, keeping the participant’s picture on the screen close to the camera will remind you where to look.
8. If possible, use a separate webcam, microphone, and headset. A pre-installed webcam generally has a lower resolution than a separate webcam.
Using a separate microphone will provide clearer speech, and a separate set of headphones will help you hear better. Listen to the laptop microphone recording (left) versus the separate condenser microphone recording (right).
Be sure to place the microphone away from view so the microphone does not block the view of your face. Using a plug-in headset instead of a Bluetooth headset will ensure you do not run out of battery.
Separate Condenser Microphone
HOT TIP: Try out the following office setup for your next online interview or focus group!
We would love to hear from you regarding tips that we could not cover in this blog!
Adobe Spark offers templates to make webpages, videos, flyers, reports, and more. It also hosts your product online for free. While there is a paid version of Adobe Spark, everything we discuss in this blog can be done using the free version. The software is very straightforward, and we were able to get our report online within an hour. We chose to create a webpage to increase accessibility for a large audience.
The free version of Adobe Spark has a lot of features, but it can be difficult to customize the layout. Therefore, we created our layouts in PowerPoint then uploaded them to Spark. This enabled us to customize the font, alignment, and illustrations. Follow these instructions to create a similar webpage:
Create a slide deck in PowerPoint. Use one slide per photo and text from the participant. The first slide serves as a template for the rest.
After creating the slides, you have a few options for saving the photos for upload.
Use a snipping tool (Windows’ snipping or Mac’s screenshot function) to take a picture of each slide and save it as a PNG file.
Save each as a picture in PowerPoint by selecting the image and the speech bubble, right clicking, and saving as a picture.
Export as a PNG in PowerPoint. Go to File > Export then select PNG under the File Format drop-down menu. This will save all the slides as individual image files.
Create a webpage in Adobe Spark.
Once on the site, you will be prompted to start a new account (unless you’re a returning user). This will allow your projects to be stored and give you access to create in the software.
You have the option to change the theme to match your program or branding by selecting the Theme button.
Once you have selected your theme, you are ready to add a title and upload the photos you created from PowerPoint. To upload the photos, press the plus icon.
Then select Photo.
Select Upload Photo. Add all photos and confirm the arrangement.
After finalizing, remember to post the page online and click Share to give out the link.
Though we used Adobe Spark to share our PhotoVoice results, there are many applications for using Spark. We encourage you to check out Adobe Spark to see how you can use it to share your evaluation results.
Hot Tips and Features:
Adobe Spark adjusts automatically for handheld devices.
Adobe Spark also automatically adjusts lines for you. No need to use a virtual ruler.
There are themes available with the free subscription, making it easy to design the webpage.
Select multiple photos during your upload. Adobe Spark will automatically separate each file for you.
*Disclaimer: Adobe Spark didn’t pay us anything for this blog. We wanted to share this amazing find with the evaluation community!
PhotoVoice is a method of inquiry that engages participants in creating photographs and short captions in response to specific prompts. The photos and captions provide contextually grounded insights that might otherwise be unreachable by those not living that experience. We opted to use PhotoVoice because the photos and narratives could provide insights into participants’ perspectives that cannot be captured using close-ended questionnaires.
We created two prompts, in the form of questions, and introduced PhotoVoice in person with the UB student participants (see the instructional handout below). Students used their cell phones to take one photo per prompt. For confidentiality reasons, we also asked the students to avoid taking pictures of human faces. Students were asked to write a two- to three-sentence caption for each photo. The caption was to include a short description of the photo, what was happening in the photo, and the reason for taking the photo.
Figure 1: PhotoVoice Handout
PhotoVoice participation was part of the UB summer programming and overseen by the UB staff. Participants had two weeks to complete the tasks. After receiving the photographs and captions, we analyzed them using MAXQDA 2018. We coded the pictures and the narratives using an inductive thematic approach.
After the preliminary analysis, we then went back to our student participants to see if our themes resonated with them. Each photo and caption was printed on a large sheet of paper (see figure 2 below) and posted on the wall. During a gallery walk, students were asked to review each photo and caption combination and to indicate whether they agree or disagree with our theme selections (see figure 3). We gave participants stickers and asked them to place the stickers in either the “agree” or “disagree” section on the bottom of each poster. After the gallery walk, we discussed the participants’ ratings to understand their photos and write-ups better.
Figure 2: Gallery walk layout (photo and caption on large pieces of paper)
Figure 3: Participants browsing the photographs
Using the participants’ insights, we finalized the analysis, created a webpage, and developed a two-page report for the program staff. To learn more about our reporting process, see our next blog. Below is a diagram of the activities that we completed during the evaluation.
Figure 4: Activities conducted in the Upward Bound evaluation
The PhotoVoice activity provided us with rich insights that we would not have received from the survey that was previously used. The UB student participants enjoyed learning about and being a part of the evaluation process. The program staff valued the reports and insights the method provided. The exclusion of faces in the photographs enabled us to avoid having to obtain parental permission to release the photos for use in the evaluation and by UB staff. Having the students use cell phone cameras kept costs low. Overall, the evaluation activity went over well with the group, and we plan to continue using PhotoVoice in the future.