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Survey Tips

5 tips to get students to answer your surveys

5 tips to get students to answer your surveys

No doubt you’ve heard the saying: “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. Surveying your campus is an incredibly powerful way to gather quantitative and measurable insights about student experience, course effectiveness, diversity and inclusion on campus, and more. By regularly collecting feedback, universities and colleges are able to support and engage students more effectively.

But how can institutions improve if they haven’t collected any data to measure? 
In an age where students receive more emails and notifications than ever before, sometimes surveys can go unnoticed and unanswered. With an average online survey response of only 20-30%, institutions are having to find unique ways to get their surveys in front of students.

Here are our top 5 recommendations for a better survey response rate.

Beginning in the early 1990s, just before the dot-com boom, researchers explored using email as a method to conduct surveys. Flashforward almost 30 years, email surveys have become an increasingly popular and accessible method of collecting data.

While email is a great channel to incorporate in your survey strategy, we think it’s best to always consider multiple methods when gathering data. Considering that almost 50% of email is spam, only 20% of emails are opened, and only 2% of all emails are clicked, survey administrators need to get creative with how they encourage survey responses. 

Many students receive a higher volume of external spam to their school email account and tend to have multiple email addresses, some which are rarely checked. To avoid your survey getting buried or not seen at all, try posting a web link or QR code to surveys directly in your learning management system or anywhere else that serves as a central hub for course contents, announcements, and academic resources. Your LMS is already a familiar place students are visiting, and is accessible to both online and on-campus students, making it the perfect place to host your student surveys. 

Another great way to get your surveys front and center, especially with students, is by using SMS surveys. Texting has a wider reach and more immediate feel. In fact, 90% of people read a text within the first 3 minutes of receiving it, and 19% of all links via text are clicked (that’s a 17% increase from links via email!). One study even found that people may be more likely to disclose sensitive information via text message, which makes it a great tool for collecting honest student and faculty feedback.

Remember, while thinking of creative methods for data collection is key to increasing response rates, using a more traditional approach like email surveys should still be part of your survey strategy. If you’re sending your surveys via email, make sure students know it is coming from your institution domain. Over 90% of students say they are more likely to open an email from an organization they belong to. Utilizing features like whitelabelling, custom domain names, and branded templates can help avoid getting ignored in the inbox or confused for spam!

Pro tip: Whether you are using email or SMS surveys, don’t be scared to send reminders to people who haven’t completed your survey yet—66% of students are more likely to complete a survey if they receive a reminder.

In our webinar discussing simple strategies to increase student response rates, we chatted with Dr. Robin Nickel, Director of Academic Assessment at Madison College, who shared that her students actually wanted to provide valuable feedback, but weren't getting those opportunities to do so in their learning environment:

“We have learned that class time needs to be given for when students are taking the survey, whether it is a face to face class or built into an online module. [The survey] needs to be actually built in instructionally where there is time set aside for the students to complete this.”

Make surveys accessible and get richer feedback from students by incentivizing them with time in class to ask questions about and complete the survey. Try incorporating short polls into lessons, or surveying the class for feedback after new material is presented using a QR code, to collect real time results. Finally, don’t be afraid to use smartphones in class. In a 2017 study, over 94% of students surveyed said they wanted to use their cellphones in class for academic purposes, such as class check-in (60%) and answering in-class polls (59%)—learn more about using polls and QR codes in the classroom here.

Pro tip: If you’re collecting student feedback in class on the topics of course content or instructor satisfaction, make sure the instructor leaves the classroom while the survey is conducted. This ensures that students can provide unbiased feedback and feel comfortable leaving honest reviews.

First impressions are everything. 

It may seem like a no-brainer, but creating clean, well-designed surveys increase engagement and in turn, responses from your students. In one study, participants noted that easy-to-fix design issues like lack of color, inadequate introductory content, and too much corporate look and feel, were among the top reasons why they didn’t engage with the survey content. 

When thinking about survey design, make sure to include a short but informative introduction to set expectations for respondents. Here you can not only specify the topic of the survey, but you can indicate if the survey is anonymous or not, what will be done with the feedback, and any other specifications you may have.

Finally, use survey design to be considerate of students' time. Consider using a progress bar so respondents can track how much they’ve finished and how much they still need to complete. 87% of students are more willing to complete a survey if you do this! And while 94% of students prefer surveys that are short and concise, sometimes institutions require more in-depth feedback. Use design to increase responses for these longer surveys.

Pro tip: add skip logic, advanced branching, or the option to skip a question entirely. If you are conducting a longer survey however, make sure you put the important questions at the beginning— this is when survey takers are typically most engaged!

For times when in-class surveys might not be an option, try catching students outside of the classroom! With offline surveys you can collect feedback and insights from students anywhere, without access to WiFi, making this a great option for off-campus events like conferences, networking events, field studies, and more. 

You can even collect feedback without asking! Try setting up a device or kiosk in high traffic areas where students are in less of a rush, like a library or student services waiting room. When you need quick student feedback at scale, utilize kiosk mode to collect feedback on the device, and enjoy automatically having surveys go from the completed page back to the start page, one survey after another—no human needed! 

Pro tip: Having a hard time getting the attention of students? Consider offering a small incentive to students walking by, like a snack or a notebook; just enough to persuade them to stop and give you a few minutes of their time, but not enough to entice people to answer purely for the incentive. You can learn more about how to offer incentives without losing good data here.

Unless your survey involves confidential results, like individual classroom feedback, make a habit of sharing the results with your students or campus. Creating a feedback loop where students feel that their opinion is welcomed and valued will improve student engagement, as well as increase their likeliness to give feedback in future surveys. If you intend to use their feedback in making meaningful changes or decisions, be sure to mention this in the survey invitation. Then, try displaying results on the department website, via social media, or discuss the results in class!

Watch our on-demand webinar with Dr. Robin Nickel, Director of Academic Assessment at Madison College.