Not another survey! 5 tips for drawing students to your survey

person using white ipad

“Not another survey!” We all live in a survey world and so do students.

I can empathise with how students feel. As a recent graduate myself, I recall receiving emails from several institutions and departments wanting my opinion about different things. Heck, I can’t even listen to my favourite tunes by Rita Ora or EDM trance mixes on YouTube without being asked to take a survey these days.

In a world where we are inundated with requests for our opinions, it’s important that when we ask students to complete a survey we do so in a manner that’s appealing to them. Otherwise – why would they bother completing it?

Surveys on educational interventions

In my job as a researcher, I currently survey students at scale. I’m part of a team working on an exciting Connected Learning at Scale project that looks at transforming the learning experience of students at scale. This allows students to engage with content, share, connect and collaborate with each other, while also having the opportunity to engage in real-world assessments.

The surveys I give students are designed to ask them their opinions on various teaching interventions such as interactive quizzes and chunked videos (as opposed to a lecture). We also want to find out their opinions on using the Canvas LMS for learning online.

These surveys are imperative to teachers and educational developers. Given the enormous transformation of education to the online world, we need to see how students find this way of learning in terms of understanding course content, keeping them motivated and facilitating peer-to-peer learning in an online environment.

However, it would be foolish to think that we’re alone in asking student for feedback. Students are asked to complete several institution-designed surveys, such as: overall course evaluations, feedback for teachers, and post-graduation related surveys. It’s no wonder survey fatigue is well reported in the literature.

So, how can we get students to engage with our surveys?

Important considerations for surveys

There are several aspects to consider when releasing a survey to get student’s opinions. These five tips may assist you in survey design and administration.

  1. Is the survey LONG? Just as you are probably aware of by now, as the length of this blog post increases (and I thank you for paying attention up until here), student’s attention needs to be held for the duration of the survey to get maximal depth in responses. In my research, I have found that students may have shortened attention spans against the backdrop of other distractions such as social media, etc. – all of which has been accelerated by being online all the time. Surveys need to be short, sharp, and straight to the point.
  2. Is there an INCENTIVE? It’s always good to include an incentive for students. In our project, we tell students that completing the survey is an opportunity to go in the draw to win a voucher. If students are learning offshore, you may wish to administer a more general voucher such as a pre-paid debit card rather than a movie or shopping voucher only redeemable in Australia.
  3. Is it MANDATORY? All surveys are entirely optional, however students need to be reminded of this aspect. If the findings are to be used for research, it is essential to have a disclaimer about this at the start of a survey, e.g. their results may be used for research purposes. Being upfront about this reflects transparency (and it would be a requirement of your ethics approval, no doubt).
  4. Will students RESONATE with the survey? Do you resonate with this blog? Have you had similar considerations when making student surveys? If so, then you have probably read to here. Similarly with students, they need an internal reason for completing survey questions honestly and accurately. How does it relate to their own circumstances? Does it give them an opportunity to express their opinion in a way that is meaningful for them?
  5. Is it USER-FRIENDLY? Look at the survey overall. Is it something that you think a student would want to answer? Having 3 multiple-choice questions (MCQs), then a short answer followed by another form of question is more engaging than asking a student to answer 35 MCQs. Variety is the spice of life. When MCQs are an ingredient in the survey mixture, use them wisely.
There is more…

So, when you next design a survey for students, perhaps some of the suggestions here may help you in increasing student engagement and attention. This will ultimately allow for a better set of data obtained from students, who by no fault of their own live in a survey world.

While there are many different software packages and associated tricks, I’ll save that discussion for next time. Good luck – and don’t worry, no feedback survey is required. I’m glad you made it to the end of the blog and hopefully found it useful for your work.

Published by Dr Matthew Taylor

An early-career researcher involved in evaluation of educational interventions at scale. Trained as a biomedical engineer and medical scientist, and enjoys writing of all sorts, teaching and continual learning!

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