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Surveys and using the survey tool in studentcentral to gather opinions


When would you use an online survey?

  • Gathering evidence on student experience.
  • Adjusting instructional practices during the semester.
  • Gathering anonymous feedback about instructor performance.
  • Gathering anonymous feedback about the course or module.
  • Determining what and how students are learning.
  • Gaining insight into student attitudes about course/module content and assignments, and student satisfaction with quizzes, exams, and the course/module in general.
  • Works especially well for large classes.

Planning your survey

  • Determine the context and purpose of the survey.
  • Develop your core questions.
  • Avoid the temptation of asking too many questions in a single survey or surveying students “just to see what’s going on”.
  • Determine how you will use the results which should also guide the content of your survey. If you are not using question responses to guide course or programme content or instruction, then leave the question out
  • Decide at what point in your course you will survey your students and schedule it into your course schedule.
  • Add an announcement before you launch the survey to ensure students know it is available. A multi-step process that separates the invitation and survey presentation is less likely to cause a negative reaction (Sheehan, K. B., (2001) Email survey response rates; a review. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication)

Writing survey questions

  • Use simple language and language that respondents can understand to avoid producing biased data.
  • This is too complex: “How ingenuous are you when the instructor asks if you have understood material presented during a lecture?”
  • This question is better: “How honest are you when the instructor asks if you have understood material presented during a lecture?"
  • Write clearly. Good survey questions are clear and direct. Respondents should know exactly what you are asking. A common mistake is to assume that respondents will have the same understanding of a question as you. Avoid asking questions that have several possible meanings
  • This is unclear: “How would you rate your participation during class?”
  • This question is much clearer: “Compared to others in the course, how often do you ask questions during lectures?”
  • Avoid universal words and double negatives. Because respondents may avoid choosing extremes, do not use universal words such as “all,” “always,” “none,” and “never”. It is also best to avoid words such as “only”, “just”, and “merely”, which may lead respondents to answer in a particular way and bias the results. Negatively worded questions are often confusing because responding “no” creates a double negative.
  • Write short questions. Questions should be short and simple, rarely exceeding 20 words. Survey responses are often completed quickly and without much thought. Therefore, compound questions can lead to misinterpretation when the respondent tries to rapidly read, understand, and answer them.
  • One concept per question. Each survey question should contain only one concept. “Double-barrelled” questions, addressing more than one concept, may confuse the respondent. The solution is to separate two ideas into two questions.
  • Avoid biased questions. Write questions that do not lead the respondent to answer a particular way.
  • This question is biased: “This semester we used state-of-the-art technology with the wonderful new interactive whiteboard. What is your opinion of the system?”
  • This question is better: “What is your opinion of the interactive whiteboard?”

Organising online surveys

  • Start with a name, description, and instructions for your survey. If you use the studentcentral tool, these boxes are already there for you to complete.
  • Write an introduction explaining the survey’s purpose, how results will be used, how to complete the survey, and the terms of confidentiality or anonymity. Providing these terms promotes honest responses.
  • Use clear, basic instructions for completing the survey. For short answer or essay questions explain the desired length and type of detail for responses.
  • Make the survey visually inviting and easy to follow.
  • Avoid very small sized fonts or fonts that are distracting or difficult to read. We suggest a minimum font size of 14.
  • Order questions carefully to improve the flow and coherence of your survey.
  • Group similar questions together so the survey is easy to follow.
  • Consider which questions you will ask first to engage the respondant.  
  • Position sensitive questions in the middle. Once respondents have begun completing your survey, they may be more likely to answer sensitive questions. Placing them at the very beginning may result in potential respondents refusing to participate. For example: asking questions about a respondants emotions or feelings around a subject.
  • Place demographic questions (gender, year, age, etc.) at the end. You should make clear that these questions are optional.

Benefits of using online surveys

  • low cost
  • quick distribution
  • you can create your own questions
  • you can order and reorder them as you wish
  • transfer of responses into a database eliminates transcription errors.
For a good review of online surveys search for Evans, J.R., Mathur. A. (2005) The value of online surveys.  Internet Research 15 (2).

Benefits of using the studentcentral tool for online surveys

  • You can include multimedia or embed web addresses.
  • You can download raw data to run cross-tabular analysis.
  • It operates within a secure and familiar environment.

Limitations of using online surveys

Much research has been carried out into why response rates to online surveys are not as high as traditional paper based surveys.
Suggestions to boost online survey response rates include offering incentives such as money or prizes draws. Clearly any incentives may introduce a systematic bias into the study.
Studies have found that online evaluations do not produce significantly different mean evaluation scores than traditional paper evaluations (Dommeyer, C.J. et al (2004) Gathering faculty teaching evaluations buy in-class and online surveys; their effects on response rates and evaluations Assssment & Evaluation in Higher Education 29 (5)).
Limitations may include:
  • respondents must be enrolled in the course/module area if using the studentcentral tool
  • not suitable for assessing individual student performance as the response output is anonymous
  • electronic surveys generally have lower response rates than paper surveys
  • requires having clear assessment goals and an understanding of assessment practices in order to write effective questions and properly organise the survey
  • high non-response rates may revolve around issues of privacy and confidentiality
  • poorly designed online surveys encourage novice users to break off the survey process, making them less effective than paper surveys
  • the inability to inspect the survey document prior to completion as can be done with a paper copy.

Limitations of using the studentcentral tool for online surveys

  • No graphics available to display results.
  • All respondents must be enrolled in the same study area.
  • Best used when only simple analysis is required.

How to use online surveys

If using the Survey tool in studentcentral, then it’s essential that you familiarise yourself with the Grade Centre tool.


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