10 January, 2008

Survey Tools: for End of Module Surveys and the Like

We’ve been recently using The Form Assembly for creation of forms for end of module surveys and the like, because the WebCT survey tool was awkward to use.

However with our upgrade to Blackboard, Form Assembly’s re-development and the fact people in the Faculty of Health had been looking at, and are quite keen on Bristol Online Surveys, it is worth taking a proper look at how each of them compare.

We will look at the services from the perspectives of:

-Form creation, duplication and management among a large number of people
-Completing the forms
-Data management and analysis
-Financial cost
-Potential longevity of the service

by comparing re-creating a generic end of module evaluation form.

1. Form Assembly

See the example. If you have time you could make it look much tidier.

-Form creation, duplication and management among a large number of people

Form creation is very flexible, with the possibility for more complex features like conditionally released questions. The import list feature means that it is very quick to create a series of multiple choice questions which have the same replies (e.g. Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree).

Duplication of the form is easy as you can just use an existing one as a template. You can release your form to the public to use as a template, which means if several people at Edge Hill had accounts, they could share generic forms and change whatever questions they might want.

Several people could use one account and email notifications announcing when a form has been submitted can be sent to different email addresses for each form.

-Completing the forms

Very straight forward.

-Data management and analysis

This is affected by the plan you choose. The free plan doesn’t allow you to export results in CSV format, but it does create pie charts to display the results, and these could be printed or saved as a PDF. The paid plans allow export of the data in CSV or XML format.

-Financial cost

Visit the pricing page for all the options, but basically there is a free option where users are shown Google text adverts after submission, a pay as you go (e.g. £5 per 100 responces) and monthly subscription (e.g. £5 for a month/£60 per year). The paid service provides better options for exporting the results but even the free version gives notifications of new submissions by email or RSS feeds.

-Potential longevity of the service and any other things

Difficult to know, but the service has been around a few years and seems to be developing.

2. Blackboard Assessments Tool

-Form creation, duplication and management among a large number of people

The process of creating the questions is pretty straight forward – you create an assessment and then the individual questions. The only slight complications occur because the tool is to be used for quizzes too, which means you get more options that you need.

I could create the questions, but not separate them into sections with a title and instructions for each section as with Form Assembly.

The survey can be exported and shared amongst several Blackboard areas.

-Completing the forms

Pretty straight forward. Can save questions individually or all at the end.

-Data management and analysis

The tool does record your results, creating bar graphs and allowing you to download as a CSV file. However it is made slightly more complex because it is designed for quizzes and so you’ll also get grades given for correct answers, which you don't need for a survey.

-Financial cost

None as we are using Blackboard already.

-Potential longevity of the service and any other things

Created surveys will last as long as we stay with Blackboard. This survey tool cannot be used outside Blackboard for other uses, which limits it’s use.

3. Bristol Online Surveys

See an overview.

-Form creation, duplication and management among a large number of people

The creation of forms and questions is as quick and straightforward as Form Assembly. Duplication is easy as you can use other people’s forms as templates. Also you can create accounts for as many users as you want.

-Completing the form.

As simple as the other two services.

-Data management and analysis

Not used it myself but it looks like you can export CSV files of the data, and it will display results as bar graphs for you. It doesn’t look like there are notifications of submissions, but I might be wrong.

-Financial cost

£500 plus VAT per year for the institution.

-Potential longevity of the service and any other things

As the University of Bristol who created it seem to be using it I’d think it will be a long term thing.


The Blackboard survey tool (now called the Assessments tool) has improved since WebCT CE 4. As it doesn't allow surveys to be used outside of the Blackboard environment, we need to look at other options for the institution, however if you just want to run an end of module survey Blackboard is fine. If you like, download the Generic Module Evaluation that we have been using. If you have access to build your Blackboard area, go to the 'Build' tab, click on 'Manage Course', 'Import' and then upload the file and select it. This will import the questions and survey.

If the institution pays for Bristol Online Surveys you can create/copy something on there and link to the URL of the survey from anywhere including your Blackboard area. This is a good simple solution as long as there is someone in the institution to sort out administration of user accounts. It is academically focussed too, so seems to be developed with the use of research data in packages like SPSS in mind - although I've not looked at this aspect.

If you wanted more complex forms, with conditionally released sections and an RSS feed of results Form Assembly would be the best solution. This creates the best looking forms, especially if you spend a bit of time with it and can have multiple users using the same account, all receiving email updates of submissions for their own forms. It works well for simple forms too and is a very affordable solution.


Mandy Phillips said...

Interesting stuff Pete. I won't go into as much detail but I use a great freebie site called http://www.surveymonkey.com which has about 15 or so question types, a choice of design templates and a range of collection and analysis techniques. It's very user friendly, and free for the basic model. If I remember correctly we could subscribe as an institution for $200 a year which is still pretty reasonable.

Peter Reed said...

Since Pete posted this, Edge Hill have subscribed to Bristol Online Surveys.
Although it is still early days in terms of its usage, BOS has been used for various research projects and module evaluations.

It looks like I am the designated contact for this at the moment so if you want to know anything about it or want to run a survey, let me know.

Peter Reed
01695 650756

Christopher Jack said...

There is an open source online survey software called Limesurvey, It is free and allows you to create and administrate and analyze as many surveys as you want for free,

It also lets you see what the university as a whole is doing in terms of research which can be used to stop student dilution.