student surveys, quick and easy

Beth Duckles has a nifty thought on collecting data from students (for polls, feedback, etc.): using Google forms to collect the responses, then saving them as a spreadsheet to import into your favorite statistical package to analyze. Very useful, indeed.

6 thoughts on “student surveys, quick and easy”

  1. I am a big fan of using “clickers” in my classes to gather immediate feedback as a uniquely useful pedagogical tool. There are a couple of different companies that make the units and the software, but the application is very similar to that which is being discussed above. Only in this case, students do not need to use computers to input data- just these small TV remote-like clickers. These units have the particular advantage in a Sociology course of anonymously eliciting feedback that can be instantly displayed- including some graphical output and basic descriptive statistics. It also allows us to quickly gauge the distance between the attitudinal distribution the class ASSUMES and the one it actually HOLDS.

    It turns out that folks are much more likely to join classroom discussions when a wider variety of experiences/perspectives are known to be present among them. These data are also exportable and easily available for more in-depth analysis. Every semester I teach a Race & Ethnicity course, I gather attitudinal and basic demographic data using these clickers along with attitudes about Affirmative Action policies. I tell them that we’re going to do a simple regression and ask them to guess which of the variables we’ve gathered are the best predictors of the AA attitudes. After a lengthy caveat about the extremely limited generalizability of the data (I leave most of that to the methods folks, of course) we look at the best predictors of that attitude via the exported data which were regressed.

    The outcomes are almost always very similar in these classes and almost never among the variables they guessed as most important. We then talk about why these particular variables seemed to have the predictive power in this unrepresentative sample and why they expected the relationships to be different. I’ve found this particular exercise the MOST illuminating in the entire course for a lot of students given that these tools allow us to both examine structural/attitudinal relationships (of which many students deny the existence) and at the same time talk about why the data don’t match their expectations. Really good stuff.


  2. I am also a fan of clickers for my big classes – very handy real-time student input.

    I think Beth’s insight is really good for smaller classes and for more private data like student evaluations.


  3. I have been using both of these things — Google Docs surveys and clickers — in my two large classes this semester. It’s been an amazingly positive experience overall.

    Students appear to be WAY more persuaded about the validity of an idea or research finding when it’s demonstrated using their own responses. I also find that there’s nothing college students are more interested in than themselves, so I use their narcissism like a “gravitational slingshot” to increase the velocity with which they are learning sociology.

    I’ve even done impromptu framing experiments in class by asking half of the students to close their eyes at a time and presenting them with different versions of a survey question. Good times!


  4. The trick with clickers is writing questions that get good variance (like survey questions in general). When I could ask the question in such a way that a minority view was at least 15% of the responses, I was more likely to be able to get someone to stand up for that point of view.

    I also did an exercise where I asked a question with a good split, then gave them 10 minutes to argue with the person next to them, then resurveyed the class. Lots of possibilities.


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