My most recent trip was to Polokwane and the University of the Limpopo.
It turned out I arrived during peak campaigning for students council. The campus was buzzing as different groups were holding rallying throughout the campus. Singing echoed out form the cafeterias so John (one of our respondents and my very helpful on the ground organiser) and I decided we ought to meet in a back up venue. As John is a e-learning facilitator he had organised us one of the computer labs to meet as well. Not quite right for a focus group but we moved things around and created a space to talk f2f. Just as our participants were gathering there was a power cut and the lab was plunged into darkness. We waited 10 min but there was no sign of any solution and the labs didn’t have a backup generator. A couple of students trickled into the dark but this wasn’t going to work for a venue. I suggested we just meet outside as it was a lovely evening and there and the walk way lights were powered up. But then we discovered that the General Secretary of the Limpopo ANC was addressing the students in the hall across the way (not a quiet occasion). Resourcefully the students knew exactly which buildings had backup power and we found an unlocked mini lecture theatre in a nice peaceful and quiet location to use.
Whilst student don’t say fundamentally different things in the focus groups (compared to phone interviews) what is different is how they feed off each others stories and comments noticing whats similar or different about their experiences. Once one student admits to feeling completely daunted when first confronted by computers the other s will all smile and nod and tell you how they felt when they first had to use a pc at university. Whats different is not the story but the way they tell it when in a face to face group. The feeling that comes out when they say they cant imagine not using or needing to use a computer everyday of their lives. How now their families in the villages might have a computer at home and how they have become their teachers.
Aside from the research my one other highlight in Polokwane was friendly genuinely helpful people. Campus security who asked a student to hop in the car with me to show me where to going on campus and opened locked gates at 8pm for me when I found myself at the wrong exit. Nandos (where I ordered a platter for the focus group) who phoned ME to confirm order and pick up 3 times, and hotel staff that were efficient and very friendly . Polokwane are seriously gearing up for the World Cup Soccer and given their demonstration of efficiency and service I’m sure they will pull it off well. I’s starting to think Telkom should relocate their head office there J