With surveys, you learn what you teach…

Despite a fiendishly frantic term, I’ve been lucky enough in the past few weeks to benefit from my own technology lessons in the classroom. Teachers are both blessed and cursed with the realisation that sooner or later you learn what you teach.

No truer has this been than in a recent series of student and teacher seminars I’ve been involved in focusing on the use of Google Docs to generate online surveys and populate the results in a spreadsheet for analysis. I’d like to briefly mention two applications of this at relative ends of the learning spectrum: first, with my Year 7 Connected Learning class; and, secondly, with the staff at my school.


1. Student Success with Surveys: Ownership in the Real World

As part of a unit I’m teaching on self-esteem, I was keen to see my students become researchers in issues of interest to them, using surveys to find out what their peers thought about what mattered most in their lives at this point. Having formed hypotheses about all kinds of issues related to self-esteem (acne, older sisters, going to church, boyfriends and girlfriends, religion, sport and so on), my kids developed a series of statements to test their own hypothesis, survey others, gather the data and analyse the results. Throughout the whole process of survey design, construction and delivery, we’ve had focused discussions on what makes a good, ethically-grounded survey. As a class, we’ve worked out that anonymity, optionality and clarity in purpose and the use of the data are all  crucial to ensuring that a survey emailed to others is ethical and benefits both the surveyer and the respondents.

Tomorrow, they’ll write a 45 minute “letter to the editor” in which they promote a broader understanding of the issues and make detailed reference to their own survey findings. What makes me feel good about a summative test at this end of the term is that it’s informed by real choice, along with real questions on real problems.

If you’re interested in seeing/hearing more about how I promote survey design, construction and delivery for students, you might like to check out this video tutorial that I made, covering all the aspects that I’ve mentioned above.


2. Teacher Success with Surveys: Professionalism and Transparency

Over the past week, I’ve been extremely tense about what amounted to a very well-received, engaging and (hopefully) empowering presentation at a staff meeting yesterday afternoon. For many teachers, using surveys to evaluate our practice, the content of our lessons and the strategies we use is daunting in the least. In an age of high accountability, I remain concerned about how any whole-school initiative with course evaluation surveys will respond to issues around:

  • the wording of questions and how they are interpreted by students;
  • the focus of the survey – whether on the individual teacher, department or whole-school;
  • how the data is used and whether or not it is published;
  • the potential for surveyers to consciously or unconsciously connect names with responses and possible implications;
  • the levels of privacy for individual teachers and students; and
  • the overuse of surveys, particularly badly designed ones.

All of this said, I feel that surveys which ask genuine questions and express genuine interest in the opinions of students are extremely empowering, and as one colleague remarked at the meeting, success with surveys is ‘as much about how you “talk through” a survey with the kids as it is about the survey itself.’

Of course, course evaluation is now a tried and true tradition in many universities and perhaps it simply needs to become more a part of the furniture in secondary education for us to properly navigate what can at times be turbulent waters. At least if I’m showing what the technology enables, pointing out the steps, raising concerns where I need to and guiding teachers with advice from one professional to the next, I can say that I’m doing my job to the best of my ability.

Or can I? Maybe I should go and develop a survey to find out! 🙂

If you’re interested in teachers on designing, constructing and delivering course evaluation surveys with Google Docs, check out my teacher video tutorial.




About Michael

Cellist, singer/songwriter, school teacher, nerd, recent scooter enthusiast and failed philosopher.
This entry was posted in Classroom Teaching, Reflections and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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