Emory Report

October 25, 1999

 Volume 52, No. 9

Technology Source:

ITD offers Web survey help to departments

Information technology has done much to improve the ways in which survey data is collected and analyzed. Many web sites now include short opinion polls with a "question of the day." These interactive applications can often be customized to reflect results on the fly, or simply to collect data for further analysis.

Over the past year, Information Technology Division's administrative services department has developed and launched survey applications for the Committee On Traditions and Community Ties (CONTACT), the Dobbs Center, the Office of Institutional Planning and Research (IPR) and the Academic Exchange. Each differed in how audiences were targeted, how data that was captured and processed, and how respondent access was restricted.

The CONTACT survey was an open forum designed to welcome the comments and opinions of as many people as possible. "I don't think we would have been able to do a survey without the Web," said Karen Salisbury, assistant dean for Campus Life and director of Student Activities. "The Web enabled alums and friends of Emory from all over the country to contribute information. The survey was the major way we have been able to get feedback from the largest number of people."

Conversely, the IPR office is conducting two surveys with specific audiences in mind, including a survey of faculty research efforts that affect greater Atlanta and the state of Georgia. "Without the Web version, I would have had to use the paper version-preferably a scannable form-of my questionnaire," said Daniel Teodorescu, IPR research associate. "This would have meant mailing out more than 2,700 questionnaires, which logistically would take a few days of intensive labor. When responses come in, questionnaires would have had to be scanned and illegible characters verified individually."

A second survey effort directed toward graduate students is a commercial endeavor designed and distributed by the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium. We adapted their Cold Fusion scripts and added a security feature to prevent repeat survey submissions and submissions from the non-targeted audience. According to Teodorescu, the online version saved them a $2-per survey consortium fee for scanning and processing each paper questionnaire.

Web surveys offer additional benefits in improved flexibility and rapid turnaround of results. Once sent out, the appearance and content of a printed survey is impossible to alter. "With the Web," Teodorescu noted, "a thorough review of the first five to 10 responses allows you to spot mistakes in the design of the questionnaire and make the necessary changes in a matter of minutes. You are offered the chance to fine-tune the instrument, which brings more value to the data collected."

There are drawbacks to Web surveys. Not all respondents are comfortable with them, and the resulting data files are relational tables in a database instead of a flat file, complicating the eventual statistical analysis with tools like SAS or SPSS.

But the advantages still seem to outweigh the disadvantages. In addition to tools like Cold Fusion that require some in-house IT resources, other third-party software packages such as Survey Select, Survey Said and Survey Tracker provide off-the-shelf solutions for customers to design their questionnaire, distribute and collect data in various formats.

Linda Erhard is a business analyst for ITD administrative services.

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