Using iPads for Survey Data Collection in the Communication Research Class

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Surveys are a common method uses in communication research class projects. Since I started teaching this class at Shepherd University, I’ve added a fun, cool feature that really brings the survey data collection process to life!

Students in my Comm 435 Communication Research class (see all posts on Comm 435; see syllabus) now use iPads for data collection in the field. My students grab a department iPad and go around campus to recruit participants. The participants complete the surveys on the iPads, and the data is synched to the cloud where it can be downloaded and analyzed.

ipadsurveys

Overview

For the final of three hands-on projects in my class, student teams identify a problem or question they have pertaining to Shepherd University or the local community. They design a study to research that problem. In my first two hands-on projects, students don’t design the methods or the measurements. They are based on scenarios I set up and materials I provide. For example, here’s a discussion of my computer-assisted content analysis assignment.

As a part of the assignment for today’s post, students are required to conduct 1) surveys, and 2) either focus groups or interviews. Let’s talk about the surveys:

After discussing surveys as a method, with a particular focus on survey design and considerations, each team designs a brief survey.

In the lecture before they create the survey, I lecture on important considerations in survey design. And then students do an in class activity to practice putting these concepts into motion using a mock scenario. I then provide feedback on their survey design, and help them make improvements.

The class the following time we meet is dedicated to helping students design measurements that meet the research objective and research questions they’ve developed that will help them get the answers to the questions they want to know. The day is also dedicated to helping them write effective survey questions (as well as interview or focus group questions, for that part of the assignment). I started dedicating an entire class period to measurement design after spotting this as a major weakness in the projects last semester.

Next, rather than using paper & pen, or surveymonkey.com (which limits students to only 10 questions), teams program their surveys into ONA.io. It is a free, open access web survey tool designed by folks at Columbia University. So, we spend the 3rd day learning how to use ONA.io to program their surveys. I’ll talk in detail about that in the next post.

During data collection week, students check out department iPads, load the survey onto their iPad, and go out into the field to collect data. A group of students will check out several iPads and hit up the student union, library, or campus quads and collect data fairly quickly. The data syncs automatically over our campus-wide wifi! That means, when all students get back to the computer lab, their data – from each iPad used – is already synced to ONA.io where it could be downloaded and analyzed.

Pretty cool, huh? It is my favorite project that we do in my communication research class and the students seem to really enjoy using the iPads for surveys.

There are a few caveats.

  1. After the data is collected, in order for it to be analyzed in SPSS it has to be cleaned. If you do formhub, you’ll notice that the data you get doesn’t quite fit in with the format SPSS needs. So, I spend a few hours before we meet as a class to look at the data that was collected and analyze it.
  2. This year, Formhub.org seems to be moving painfully slow. I’ve had trouble last week getting the website to work. And am still having trouble this week. With data collection set to start tomorrow, I am stressing that it may not work! – update: I’ve read in several places about ongoing stability issues with Formhub. I’m now using ONA.io instead which works the exact same way! I’ve updated verbiage above to reflect that.

I’ve provided a copy of the assignment below. Enjoy!

On my next post, I will provide info on programming surveys into the XLS forms format, which is a bit tricky. I spend a day in class teaching this. I’ll also show you how to load the surveys onto the iPads and get them synced up to the computer if you aren’t on WiFi when you collect the data.

photo: CC by Sean MacEntee

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