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Online Survey Checklist

Why should administrators use surveys?

In the age of data-driven decision making, collecting data and using it efficiently is key to all aspects of the education process. Online surveys are a great way to gather information on everything from lunchroom procedures to program design. This information can impact solutions for student achievement, community relations, and district management. Consider the following:

  • Evaluation: The nature of NCLB is driving schools to reevaluate comprehensive plans. Collecting information regarding opinions and beliefs allows administrators to harness the voice of many while evaluating areas for development.
  • School-community connections: Understanding parents, teachers, students, and community members on budgetary needs, school safety, and even transportation procedures is essential to the success of school-to-home connections. Demonstrating the value of community by asking questions, listening, and taking action builds trust.
  • Respectful decision making: Administrators are faced with making many difficult decisions. Having hard data at your fingertips eliminates the need for guesswork and basing actions on opinions — which can create emotional situations and impede real progress.
  • Establish goals: Begin with defined objectives. For instance, if the goal is to gather information on support for a building project, focus on questions that align to perception of need such as class size, condition of existing facilities, and viewpoints regarding the impact of projected demographic growth.
  • Define audience: A clear picture of the population addressed is necessary. If opinions of community members that do NOT have students currently enrolled are desired, focus accordingly.
  • Anonymity: Decide whether it is pertinent to allow for anonymity of respondents.
  • Design questions worth asking: Be sure questions are neutrally worded to avoid bias, concise, and easy to understand. Keep each question focused on a single topic. Consider using third-person wording. Someone may be more honest about their own feelings when asked, "How do your colleagues feel about..." rather than "How do you feel about..."
  • Do not ask questions you are not prepared to have answered: It is inappropriate to disregard data simply because results may not correlate with original hypotheses. When all factors that could have affected survey results have been exhausted (broadness of sample, poorly worded questions) the data left is telling.
  • Consider scale and question types: Eliminating the "middle" in scaled responses ("3" in 1-5 scales) forces someone to "take a side." Surveys are designed for feedback, so consider whether a "no opinion" choice is valid to the process. Is there need for open-ended responses? Also, there is a difference between: "Do you want a new high school, yes or no?" and, "Rate community perception of need regarding facility expansion on a 1-4 scale."
  • Group themes and types of responses: Theme-clustered questions create clarity in the response process. Like-response types such as a Likert scale or multiple-choice should be grouped for consistency.
  • Keep surveys short: Provide directions with an amount of time to take the survey that has been tested, not estimated. A parent might give five to 10 minutes to feedback. A faculty member allotted assigned time may focus for 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Trial run: Use test groups for feedback. Examine sample data to be sure results align with objectives. Be prepared to redesign.
  • Getting the word out: Newsletters, listservs, Web sites, flyers, calendars, newspapers, radio, and Board of Education meetings can all be used for publicity.
  • Time frame: Make sure the time frame is long enough to reach your audience, but not long enough to allow procrastination. Faculty-level surveys may take two business days, while community surveys might be available between two Board of Education meetings.
  • Application of results: Quickly analyze results. When constituents are asked for input, expectations are that the input will be applied. Knowing how to use data is as important as collecting it. Training staff regarding the use of data is time and money well spent.
  • Presentation: Take advantage of charts, graphs, and reporting features to create professional materials.
  • Directions: Make no assumptions that the audience has the skills to effectively participate. Provide clear directions outlining goals, time required, and other pertinent information.
  • Question formats: Multiple-choice, open-ended, dual-scale, and various other question types are available. Not all tools offer the same question variety or flexibility.
  • Branching options: "If you answered no, skip to question 10." Some tools will automatically skip to a question based on the response.
  • Question banks: Sample or template question banks are sometimes available.
  • Required responses: Can questions be marked as required before a respondent may advance?
  • Distribution: Some tools offer features that distribute surveys and track responses.
  • Visual interface: What are the graphic design features of the program?
  • Technical: What are the related hardware or software requirements?
  • Results and data storage: How long is survey data stored, in what way are results presented, who owns it, and what are the graphing and import/export features? Downloads range from universal formats such as .CSV to proprietary databases. How easily can information be imported to presentation formats?
  • E-mail: Are there e-mail options to send results to system managers automatically? If respondents provide e-mails, are features available to quickly use this information? Is there an auto-reply feature?
  • Passwords: Determine if password protection of survey access is needed and available.
  • Accounts: Can a user finish an incomplete survey at a later time?
  • User friendliness: How much training is needed? Features such as wizards and tutorials may be included. What skills will the audience need to respond?
  • Price: Many online survey tools have free or trial accounts. Services structure pricing by the survey, number of questions, number of responses, or by monthly/yearly fees. How many user accounts are being purchased? With handhelds, look for software licensing, number of units, features, warranty and support, and hardware cost. Software should allow for open-ended questions without needing "correct responses." Examine recurring costs.
  • Support: Phone, online, e-mail, and chat are all forms of technical assistance. Determine what is offered. During what times (and in what time zones) is support available?
  • Access to technology: Does the audience have access to the technology required? Make computers in schools available outside business hours. Making arrangements with local libraries and community centers can also be a solution.
  • Anonymity: Even if it is stated in advance that the survey is anonymous, some people believe they can be identified by the "technology." Education on how it all works will ease this concern.
  • Multiple responses: Various tools address controlling response numbers from specific people or workstations, eliminating the worry regarding duplicate submissions.
  • Junk mail: Distributing the link to a survey via e-mail could result in messages being deleted as junk or spam if the receiver does not recognize the sender. Consider sending correspondence from the out-box of a superintendent or principal.