Academic journal article Research in Education

Collecting Data in the Information Age: Exploring Web-Based Survey Methods in Educational Research

Academic journal article Research in Education

Collecting Data in the Information Age: Exploring Web-Based Survey Methods in Educational Research

Article excerpt

The tRISSt project is a major UK, cross-institutional scoping study of the ICT skills of staff in higher and further education institutions, funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). The tRISSt project is set against a background of recent UK government education policy initiatives and the technological imperative of globalisation, both of which have created a need for all levels and categories of staff to possess a high level of ICT skills. The tRISSt project has three main objectives:

1 To examine the contrasting ICT needs of various categories of staff in HE and FE institutions through an HE/FE sector-wide needs analysis of professional development in ICT.

2 To determine what already exists across the HE and FE sectors regarding ICT training provision and accreditation.

3 To review emerging effects and changes within the institutions and the staff in the institutions and to discover what form, or forms, of accreditation would best meet the current and future needs of institutions and staff in order to allow recommendations of best practice to be made.

To meet these objectives, we have used a number of surveys to gather institutional and individual information and perspectives across institutions in the HE and FE sectors. Given the very large data set we were attempting to assemble, we necessarily made use of computer-assisted survey information collection (CASIC) methods, specifically the use of electronic mail and Web-based surveys. One aspect of this work that we focus on in this article is the opportunity it offers to contribute to the growing research in the use of such methods within education research.

In this article we begin by reflecting on computer-assisted survey information collection methods, summarising some of the perceived strengths and weaknesses in the process of collecting research data. In this analysis a number of issues are examined, including those associated with distribution, design, usability and interactivity. The article then presents a discussion of the methods used in the tRISSt project, outlining the rationale for the methods and evaluating their effectiveness. Following a brief presentation of findings, the article finishes with an evaluation of Web-based methods within the project, identifying some of the benefits alongside a range of potential drawbacks and offering a critical appraisal of the future of Web-based surveys in education research.

Computer-assisted survey information collection methods: a short history

The initial impetus for Web surveys came from the software industry rather than from the academic research community. In the early days of the World Wide Web, pages were largely static and allowed only one-way communication, from the Web site to the user. There was a realisation that the ability to receive and process information from users would greatly enhance the power of the Web. To meet this need, Web programming techniques were developed that enabled users to enter information that would be captured and stored on the Web server for subsequent processing, significantly hastening the development of the interactivity and power of the Web and facilitating the e-commerce systems that we now take for granted. The ability to store and process data from users also means that Web surveys could be conducted quickly and easily, and as a result their use is growing rapidly for market research and for commercial and government surveys.

In addition to the development of Web programming techniques, there is a growing software base for designing and implementing on-line questionnaires, and collecting and processing data. Questionnaire software typically offers the ability to create different types of items - for example, yes/no items, rating items, grouped items and free text response items. The software may include a designer tool that simplifies the process of creating the questionnaire. Colour and fonts can be used to increase the attractiveness of the questionnaire and instructions can be added to items to provide guidance for respondents. …

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