Benefits are it demands an open brief, providing interviewees to share their different perspectives and may help narrow focus for further research.
The discussion style may allow for people to say things which might not come up in a one-on-one interview. Moreover, with students it can sometimes be a safer less formal approach to getting ideas as they lose awareness of ‘recorder’ role.
In critique, the dominant voice vs. the collective voice does the loudest voice mean the strongest or most valid opinion. Common themes can be underrepresented, which is an important role of the facilitator - to check themes across the group for consensus or variation.
Reflecting on the practice of focus groups, leads me to consider dialogues with my students.
The one-on-one discussion's power of teacher authority as a disabler, unless of course the student-teacher relationship is already fully developed. This is something which I felt during my beginning of year assessments with new students, a hesitation, in fear of being 'wrong' or 'dumb'. Ironically through those same one-on-ones and other classroom activities I feel that I have further developed my relationships with students, in which they feel it is safe to share their thinking with me.
Then, like focus groups, are the small group and classroom
Considering, that although this is somewhat a safe place for sharing of ideas, it also can give preference to those who have a dominant voice, and leave those who are not as vocal to share the same opinion by default. As teacher, or facilitator, it is my job to seek out the thoughts of all members of the group, not just those who freely share their ideas. Similarly to the one-on-one interactions, I as facilitator need to ensure the development classroom and small group discussion environments which are free from ridicule and a safe place to share. This is something I need to explore in further detail and build into my kete of classroom practice, as although it is something I personally advocate and encourage, I have yet to instil this in all of my class members.