10 Tips for Data Collection

As we have worked with school districts to implement teaching and technology surveys, here are a few tips we've developed to create teacher surveys that work. Whether you create your own paper-based survey or use an on-line tool, keeping these basic points in mind will help you get the largest return for your effort.

Challenge your assumptions -- It is tempting to make assumptions about why things are the way they are -- for instance, why some teachers are excited about educational technology and others aren’t. Issues of training access, skills, and attitudes are complex and usually there is more to know than meets the eye. Collect data from your teachers, students, administrators, and community, and then use that data to drive technology planning and implementation efforts.

Collect data from a wide audience -- Remember that you have a lot of stakeholders to your technology implementation work; therefore, you need to collect data from all of these stakeholder populations. Just as important as sample size is sample scope — think about all of the individuals who will be affected by the issue at hand, such as a new technology plan.

Collect data that can't be directly observed -- The best data is often that which provides insights into attitudes and opinions. You tend to get this data as notes from discussions/interviews or written comments to open-ended survey questions. Sure, this is harder to tabulate, but it provides rich insight into what people are thinking versus just what they are doing (or saying that they are doing). Besides, you can get the "doing" data without actually surveying…what you want to collect is that information you do not otherwise see. Data is more than quantitative information and "yes/no" answers to survey questions.

Always have more than one data source -- Surveys alone cannot provide all of your relevant data. Therefore, always have more than one data source (e.g., surveys AND interviews AND observations) and then create your analysis from a comparison between the sources. Self-reported surveys are always subjective to some degree, so having lots of other data sources for comparison will help to paint the clearest possible picture of the people behind the survey responses.

Have multiple survey-writers -- When creating surveys, try to have more than one person involved in writing questions. Have people read each other’s work. This helps address the fact that most questions can be perceived of in more than one way. You need to test your survey language among the survey-writers before springing this on your survey population.

Set reasonable expectations -- You should try to "encourage" the reluctant to participate (as they add a very interesting and worth while aspect to your overall data picture), but you really cannot force people to participate. In most cases (i.e., when you have more than 100 teachers), 50% is fine and even 25% is respectable. Also, remember that quantity is only one aspect of good data…scope (i.e., including all stakeholder communities) is just as important.

Mailbox surveys do not work -- Teachers will not respond in large numbers to surveys that are simply left in their mailboxes. When your survey becomes just one more piece of junkmail, it will most often be ignored. One way to increase your returns is to let your teachers complete your survey electronically, through a web-based form. We've seen districts come away with higher returns when surveys are administered via the web. If you can take a few extra minutes at a faculty meeting, have everyone log on at the same time and answer the survey questions right then and there.

Choose your survey questions carefully -- You probably will have no more than one chance per year to hear from your stakeholders through a survey. Make it count! Be as specific as possible with your survey questions and make sure you get to the heart of the issues that are important to your team. Consult other school districts’ surveys for ideas, but write questions that make sense for your school district.

Be prepared to report back results and take action -- People will always be more willing to participate in a survey (and participate again later) if they know that the results will be communicated to them and that the data they provide will make a difference in future plans.

Survey, and then survey again -- Surveys often play a role at different stages throughout an evaluation process. For example, you may take a survey to collect baseline data that informs a planning process, then take another survey to measure how things are going the following year.

We're interested in hearing if these tips work for you, and if you have any other ideas you'd like to share. Give us feedback on surveys, the evaluation process in general, or this newsletter. Email us at http://www.sun-associates.com/contact.html.

For more information about evaluating the impact of technology on teaching and learning, visit our pages on technology evaluation.

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Last updated, June 2, 2000