Who cares what everybody else thinks? This is a question often put to teens by adults trying to make the point that they should not be swayed by peer pressure. But I would have to answer the question with an emphatic, “I do!”
I have been curious about others’ opinions for as long as I can remember. I was the little girl who put the notes on boys’ desks before recess that said, “I love you. Do you love me?” with check boxes conveniently placed by the questions. I might have left four or five notes a day. The little boy with blond curls who was my primary target would answer “yes” one day and “no” the next. I don’t remember being particularly dissuaded by the negative answers. Maybe part of my curiosity grew out of the fact that I was a small-town girl. Back in the days when I was growing up in a quiet little Texas town, everybody knew everybody. Supper conversations were often about the goings-on in the daily lives of friends of me and my brother and also my parents’ colleagues. This was not really considered gossip but rather just the news of the day.
When I was a kid, I used to wonder about my classmates, especially those whose lives were clearly different from mine. What was it like to live on the poor side of town? How did it feel to come from a family with a bunch of kids? How did it feel to have your house burn down? Perhaps because I have always loved stories, I would muse about the stories behind the kids I saw at school but rarely interacted with beyond the most perfunctory of exchanges.
When it became possible to communicate online, I had a whole new world to explore and wonder about. I was one of the very first members of the early message boards for Texas librarians. I really enjoyed reading the concerns and ideas voiced by fellow librarians across our state. I still value such connections highly, as evidenced by the questions I post these days in listservs for librarians and technology teachers. When doing graduate work, I conducted several formal surveys that were put up via my school district network using Filemaker Pro. My favorite part of the surveys was always the comments. Again, I was drawn to the stories of respondents with respect to the questions I posed.
When I bought an iPhone, one of the first apps I downloaded was called iVote. Using this app, people pose questions that fall into several categories: sports, lifestyles, politics, entertainment, current events, and technology. The respondents are people who own iPhones or iPod touches. Their ages range from about 9 or so to all ages of adults. Users are from all over the world and have a wide range of religious and political beliefs. The variety of questions is correspondingly wide, and answers vary accordingly. In addition to answering questions, users can provide comments and other members can then indicate positive or negative reactions to these comments. It is fascinating for me to follow the comments and see how people rate other folks.
For the last several years, I have enjoyed using many online tools designed specifically for the purpose of conducting surveys. These are great for professional use by librarians and teachers. I heard about SurveyMonkey at a conference workshop and really took off with it. I never even tried other similar applications because this one worked very well for me. After a few surveys I opted for the subscription membership with its added features. One of my most ambitious projects has been an annual survey of K–12 educators regarding school filters. This spring I will be conducting this survey for the fourth time. Each year I do see some progress, though every year I also bemoan the fact that it is very slow. Results from these polls can be viewed at my SurveyMonkey site.
When I was thinking about this topic in late Jan. 2010, I looked around for online survey or polling resources and discovered that SurveyMonkey is not the only game in town. Several others are being used in schools, and if you are considering starting out with surveys, it would be wise to look at the various options. Here are some that are worth considering:
• SurveyMonkey does seem to be the most popular, and it can be found at www.surveymonkey.com.
• AdvancedSurvey (www.advancedsurvey.com) is recommended by Kathy Schrock. It is a free service with similar features to those at SurveyMonkey.
• Zoomerang (www.zoomerang.com) is another service recommended by Schrock. It has a particularly colorful and user-friendly site and a section with suggested educational uses.
• Zoho Creator (http://creator.zoho.com) is for making databases, including surveys, so it has a bit of a broader range of use. At the website it stresses value for businesses, but it is another that Schrock likes and does have the promise of additional uses.
• Polldaddy (www.polldaddy.com) was mentioned by some librarians and tech teachers that I heard from when preparing this article.
It should not be a surprise that, in preparing to write this article, I asked listserv members for information about their uses for survey software. As I often do, I queried colleagues via LM_NET (a library and media specialists network), TLC (Texas Library Connection), and EdTech (an educational technology network). I asked members which online tools they used and for ways in which they were using survey or polling resources. Most respondents said they were SurveyMonkey users, but Polldaddy was also mentioned. One person reported building surveys with Google Docs. This is a great idea, especially if other resources are blocked by filters.
So how are SurveyMonkey and its cousins being used by educators? I have surveyed colleagues and peers for both formal and informal research and my first responses to that question are drawn from my own experience. During my dissertation days, in the late 1990s, I conducted several polls related to the use of interactive whiteboards, which was my dissertation topic. Results from a survey in 2001 are available at my website (www.shsu.edu/~lis_mah/documents/whywhiteboards.htm). Even though the information is old, I think the comments are still valid for someone trying to gain support for acquiring a board. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I have been using SurveyMonkey for quite a while. I am especially proud of the surveys on filtering that I have conducted for the past 3 years because more than 400 people respond each time I gather information, and also because after my next effort I will have 4 years’ data to compare.
Also drawing on experience, my first thought for K–12 student survey use was science projects. I love science projects! My favorite thing about them was helping students come up with an original question and then helping them seek answers. One thing students at my junior high used to do for projects was conduct surveys. I believe this is an option that can be used by students who find science difficult, as well as for the lovable, budding science geeks. A quick online search for “science project ideas” will offer many suggestions. One such suggestion I remember was surveying boys and girls for their favorite colors to see if there were gender differences. Once you offer students a few similar ideas to get the ball rolling, they will quickly come up with their own.
I had the unique and illuminating experience last year of attending WiredSafety’s Ninth Annual WiredKids Summit in Washington, D.C. This amazing event was conducted by the kids themselves, members of the Teenangels and Tweenangels (groups of young volunteers who have been trained in online safety) who had shared their experiences, opinions, and expertise about computer use, gaming, cell phone use, and technology with themselves and their peers. Kids who were present had conducted research on a variety of topics, much of which involved surveys. These savvy kids were constructing polls by themselves with minimal adult assistance and then using survey tools to gather responses. From these, they then made PowerPoint presentations, which they shared with the audience. Adults in the audience included parents, educators, industry representatives, and computer safety professionals who were able to sit back and learn from the kids. (If you would like to learn more about WiredKids, visit www.wiredsafety.org.) What a day! And what a great example of the power of surveys and polls to gather information for kids to share.
My faithful listserv comrades shared other ideas and made me realize that the range of topics for this kind of project are limited only by one’s imagination. Here are some of the ideas that librarians and teachers shared with me:
• Two individuals mentioned using surveys to gather students’ experiences and feelings about cyberbullying.
• Several librarians made me feel a little sheepish because I had never thought of this, but using the polls for state reading award voting or for other reading preference surveys is a perfect fit.
• One of my fellow professors, Laura Sheneman, used SurveyMonkey to gather data for a research project she conducted involving the use of Playaways.
• User satisfaction surveys were mentioned by several librarians and could certainly be useful for polling all patrons, whether students or faculty.
• This was not mentioned, but surely people were using the sites during the presidential election to allow students to “vote” for the candidate of their choice. Building on this idea, one person mentioned potential use for other elections, such as prom king and queen or class officers.
I also looked around online for some other ideas using surveys and/or polls. Here are some great ones:
• Use surveys with ESL kids! I wish I had thought of this back in my school librarian days because one of my favorite collaborators was our ESL teacher. I know we could have gotten those kids excited about the idea. Here is a helpful link to a student survey project on a nifty site that was new to me, ESL PartyLand: www.eslpartyland.com/teachers/listening/research.htm.
• Social issues tend to generate high interest with teens and tweens and are often explored in speech, history, social studies, and other classes. These studies could be enhanced by the use of student-generated surveys.
• Surveys are great for math class! Students of all ages can work with graphing results after gathering data. They can also learn the meanings and uses of terms such as mean, median, mode, etc., from such projects. My hands-down favorite math site for visualization, including graphing, is National Library of Virtual Manipulatives: http://nlvm.usu.edu/en/nav/vlibrary.html. Here is another site with ideas, this one from eMints National Center: www.emints.org/ethemes/resources/S00000184.shtml. And here is a wiki with a very enticing name: DIRT (Digital Research Tools). This page has a number of Web 2.0 tools that students and teachers alike will enjoy using: http://digitalresearchtools.pbworks.co/Data+Visualization.
• Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up project is also new to me and looks very promising for use with students, parents, teachers, and administrators. This initiative is for taking rather than for constructing surveys, but because of the compelling nature of this site, I want to share it here. The purpose is to achieve the following goals, which I am quoting from the site (www.tomorrow.org/speakup):
• Collect and report the unfiltered feedback from students, parents, and teachers on key educational issues.
• Use the data to stimulate local conversations.
• Raise national awareness about the importance of including the viewpoints of students, parents, and teachers in the education dialogue.
To conclude, you can call me a nosy parker or wishy-washy if you want, but I sincerely want to know what other people think. I use reviews before buying or making reservations online. After I see a movie or read an engrossing book, I want to talk to others who have enjoyed it as well. I am a sucker for those quick polls on news websites. During elections I really follow the polls, my hopes rising and falling with the ups and downs. And I think I am far from alone. Online survey resources help me answer my questions, and I believe they can be used with great success by teachers and librarians. What do you think?
Mary Ann Bell , B.A., M.L.S., Ed.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Library Science, Sam Houston State University, where she teaches classes related to technology and librarianship. She is the author of Internet and Personal Computer Fads, Haworth Press, 2004, and Cybersins and Digital Good Deeds: A Book About Technology and Ethics, Haworth Press, 2006. She has also written for numerous journal publications and made conference presentations on the topics of information ethics and creative teaching with technology.She is active in the Texas Library Association, American Library Association, Texas Computer Education Association, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, and Delta Kappa Gamma. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.