I’m fairly sure that we can agree that students (and staff) are over surveyed, particularly using electronic surveys. I think we can also agree that taking really long surveys is annoying, especially if the questions are not that interesting. On the other hand, part of building a culture of assessment involves collecting information from important stakeholders to help you make decisions. How do you balance that?
I facetiously have said to staff, “You only get five questions…make them good.” Okay, I am being serious when I say that, but it’s hard for people to constrain themselves when there are many interesting data points to collect. That’s the conflict: what is interesting vs. what is necessary information for you to be able to improve your practice.
Let’s face it: there are only some many hours in the day to make changes to your program or service in a given time frame. You can’t focus on more than a few things at any given point, nor is anyone asking you to. So, why are you asking a whole lot of questions that are not going to help you do better? Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
When you ask a lot of questions on a survey (“a lot” is a relative term), there are a couple of negative consequences. First, you annoy your respondents. People today do not have time, patience, and attention span to complete a survey more than a few minutes long. This is especially true if they do not have a stake in the topic or outcome. Second, related to the first, your audience will stop answering the survey. If respondents see how long a survey is in the first place, they may not take it. If they start answering a survey and get bored/tired/busy, they will stop answering your survey. The result of that is that you do not get all of the feedback you were looking for and your response rate is low.
So, what’s the answer? When you start thinking about assessment you want to do, particularly an online survey, focus yourself. What are, at most, the five most important pieces of information you NEED to know? It may be that, rather than several scale questions, you ask an open-ended question. Or, you may choose to assess one component this year and another one next year. Or, you may set up your sample so some of them see a set of questions and another portion of your sample sees other questions. You have options.
When in doubt, consult with Student Life Studies. We would be happy to help you streamline your questions!