Using Qualtrics for Survey Research

At a recent Swem and IT brown bag on survey research I gave a presentation on Qualtrics, a survey research tool that many faculty and students have been using for research at William & Mary.

At the end of last semester and the beginning of this one, I was working fairly intensively with several students who were using Qualtrics in their research projects. The technical questions were interesting, but on an emotional level, this brought back all kinds of memories about writing my own dissertation. I couldn’t help but wonder how much different my study would have been if I had had access to a tool like Qualtrics. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that this is one software company that I really love working with. The company is growing pretty rapidly, and every time I call with a question, I expect that it’s going to be the time that I get disappointed, but, so far, the responses have been very positive.)

What We Used to Do for Survey Research

My dissertation was based on a mail survey of around 1100 career services professionals who were members of a national professional association. The mailing list came on green bar lined paper, and I had to pay a typist to address the envelopes. We were convinced back then that people wouldn’t open a letter that had a mailing label on it. The bill from the typesetter almost killed me: over $200 to set up 70 questions that would fit comfortably on a sheet of 11×17 paper. Each envelope had to be hand-coded and returns were opened by a specially trained operative who checked off a list indicating that we had received a response. (The person who opened the envelope was never allowed to look at the surveys.) Much of the methodology chapter of my dissertation focused on the technical details of how we maximized our response rates and protected confidentiality. It took six weeks of time and 2000 first class stamps to get the number of responses that I needed.

What Qualtrics Allows Us to Do Now

Fast-forward 20 years. Qualtrics eliminates the need for stamps, operatives to open and code envelopes, clerks to enter data into Excel, storage vaults to contain the responses, and a host of other expenses. Recently one of our researchers was able to generate 16,000 responses from political activists in a little more than a week. In the same way, a graduate student from the School of Education collected over 14,000 responses to her dissertation questionnaire with the only cost being the price of a jump drive to back up her data.

Qualtrics has a number of qualities that make it ideal for teaching students about survey research, particularly when compared the tool we used previously. Students can create their own accounts with no intervention from the IT staff, and they can freely share their surveys and reports with their faculty or fellow students. Single sign-on frees us from password resets, and Qualtrics has well thought-out, comprehensive training available and it’s constantly updated. Perhaps most importantly, they also have US-based phone support available for anyone who gets stuck with a particular problem.

At one tech conference, the speaker went on at some length about the time-saving characteristics of her software. At the end of the presentation, one of the international visitors asked, “And what is it that you Yanks do with all that time you save?” Tough question. One of the things that I’m hoping we can do as a result of the recent brown bag is to start a conversation about what we can do to improve the state of survey research at the College now that we spend much less time resetting passwords, creating user accounts, and managing permissions. If you have ideas about how that can work, jump in.

About Gene Roche

Gene Roche is director of Academic Information Services with responsibility for assisting faculty in using technology effectively in their teaching, learning and research. He also has an academic appointment as Executive Professor in the School of Education where he teaches courses in educational technology planning, emerging technology, and adult education and works with with students on independent study, dissertations and comprehensive exams. Current projects include working with the SOE’s Executive EdD program, co-chairing William and Mary’s Survey Center, and serving as chair of the Electronic Campus of Virginia. Gene completed his AB degree at Hamilton College and his MS and EdD degrees at Syracuse University–all in the snow belt of upstate New York. Before coming to William and Mary, he was the Director of Career Services at Hamilton and taught in graduate programs in Adult Education at Syracuse University and Elmira College.