Questionnaires

Types of questionnaire

Questionnaires can be paper-based, or electronic. Virtual learning environments such as MOLE often have evaluation or survey tools built into them (See also Electronic Questionnaires).


Structured questionnaires are based predominantly on closed questions which produce data that can be analysed quantitatively for patterns and trends. The agenda is entirely predetermined by the evaluator and provides little flexibility for respondents to qualify their answers.


Unstructured questionnaires, whilst still having a structured sequence and focus predetermined by the evaluator, are based on open questions allowing respondents the freedom to answer in their own words and therefore to provide greater qualification in their response.


Semi-structured questionnaires take a mixed approach.

Why use questionnaires?

  • To allow for feedback from a large number of students, where it is impractical to collect feedback using other more resource intensive methods.
  • To allow each student the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback on their experience.
  • Structured questionnaires allow for the exploration of patterns and trends which help to describe what is happening in the L&T context and provide a measure of respondents’ opinions, attitudes, feelings, and perceptions about issues of particular concern to the evaluator. They also help to identify patterns and trends that merit further exploration using qualitative methods.
  • Unstructured questionnaires allow for richer feedback that may provide insight into explanations for what is happening and participants’ opinions, attitudes, feelings, perceptions etc. They also allow for issues to emerge that are not necessarily foreseen by the evaluator.

Strengths

  • Questionnaires can be used to collect data quite quickly.
  • All participants can be given the opportunity to provide feedback.
  • Feedback is generally anonymous, which encourages openness and honesty.
  • Structured questionnaire data can be processed by software packages such as Excel and SPSS.

Limitations

  • Questions could be interpreted differently by respondents. It can be difficult to design questionnaires to minimise this effect.
  • Data processing and analysis for large samples can be time consuming.
  • It can be difficult motivating potential respondents to complete questionnaires.

Using questionnaires

The main topics and sub-topics that need to be covered in the questionnaire will be guided by your overall framework for the evaluation. For example see

Example evaluation questions

The extent to which the questionnaire is structured will depend on its purpose in the evaluation and how it is being used with other data collection methods.

In the context of learning and teaching sampling may not be an issue, since the aim is likely to be to provide every student with the opportunity to give feedback on their experience. Larger samples generally require more structured questionnaires, but you may then need to use with another more qualitative approach to data collection to seek insight into reasons behind trends and patterns in questionnaire responses.

Practicalities

It is advisable to test questionnaires before using them, to ensure that participants understand them and interpret them in the way that you expect, that they do not take too long to complete, and that they yield useful data.

It can be difficult to achieve an appropriate balance between asking sufficient questions to get useful feedback, but not so many questions that respondents get bored or feel they don’t have sufficient time to devote to completing them.

Complex questionnaire formats and structures can be difficult for respondents to complete.

  • Longer questionnaires can be answered more quickly if the format of the question is fairly similar and respondent do not need to keep learning how to complete different types of questions, or have to make too many decisions about which sections apply to them.
  • Different approaches to phrasing questions may have strengths and weaknesses for collecting the data needed (see section on Question design).
  • Questions will need to be in accordance with the relevant legislation and University guidance for the ethical handling of data. This involves not collecting unnecessary personal data, and if the questionnaire is intended to be anonymous, any personal data that will enable respondents to be identified. (See also Ethical evaluation)

Distributing and allowing students to complete paper-based questionnaires in class time is likely to maximise representative completion.

Information to give respondents in the questionnaire, or information that accompanies it, is

  • the purpose of the questionnaire
  • how to complete the questionnaire
  • how feedback will be used in the evaluation
  • how respondents can find out about the evaluation findings and any action that will be taken as a consequence of the evaluation findings
  • how confidentiality, anonymity, data protection etc will be assured
  • how to return the form, to whom, where and by when. For postal surveys, e.g. of part-time students, return addressed and postage paid envelopes will encourage return.

Further reading

Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2000) Research Methods in Education 5th Edition. London: RoutledgeFalmer. See Chapter 14 pp 245 - 266. [Available from University Main Library.]