Engaging Students in Survey Design and Data Collection

  • Engaging Students in Survey Design and Data Collection

    Marla A. Sole
    By piloting their own survey on texting while driving, students learn that only unambiguous questions can produce credible results.
    Every day, people use data to make decisions that affect their personal and professional lives, trusting that the data are correct. Many times, however, the data are inaccurate, as a result of a flaw in the design or methodology of the survey used to collect the data. Researchers agree that only questions that are clearly worded, unambiguous, free of bias, and worded in such a way that respondents are motivated to answer truthfully produce credible results (Salant and Dillman 1994; Dillman 2007; Nardi 2003). However, many students seem not to fully understand or appreciate this fact. For example, when given survey questions accompanied by graphs and descriptive statistics to critique, students in my class Quantitative Reasoning focused almost all their attention on the results. They erroneously believed that the questions and methodology of the survey mattered less than the results and failed to realize that vague questions or those open to interpretation produce inaccurate, unusable information.