Teaching Students to Use iPads for Survey Data Collection (2 of 2)

In my last post, I wrote about a Comm Research project where students use iPads for survey data collection.This is my favorite of the 3 projects we do in my Communication Research Class (see all posts on Comm 435; see syllabus).

This week, I want to follow up by discussing how to program the surveys to work on the iPads. I’ll talk through how I teach all of this in class and through activities.

Lastly, I’ll explain how I prepare the data for use in SPSS.

Once students have created their surveys, we need to get them onto ONA.io

Programming surveys to work on ONA.io – the free, open-source tool used by my class and researchers around the world – is a little tricky. It follows XLS formatting. Once you get the hang of it, it is super easy. And it is quick to teach and learn.

I go over this online Lab Guide (http://bit.ly/435_lab_digitalsurvey) that I created on how to program XLS forms in class. I then provide students with a practice activity to create a survey in Excel or Google Spreadsheets. The activity asks students to create:

1) A question of how many years they are in school

2) A check all that apply question – I usually pick something fun like their favorite movies from a list

3) A likert-style question. Ex: How much they like binge-watching on Netflix.

In sum, they practice creating an integer, select_multiple, and select_one question.

Once students get the hang of it, they log into an ONA.io account I create for the class. Next, they upload their practice survey to test in class using our department’s iPads. But, this could be done on a phone or even a computer itself (Instructions on how to do this are in the lab guide).

The #1 thing, is that things have to be done exactly in this formatting. So, little errors like forgetting to put an _ (and putting a space instead) for “list_name” will result in ONA.io kicking the survey back and telling you there is an error. If a mistake is made, no problem. Just fix your form and re-upload.

I check to make sure everything is done correctly. This saves time when they program their own surveys. If everything is good, I give students lab time to work on formatting their surveys and help out as needed.

After everything has been uploaded successfully – this usually takes time outside of class, so I make it due the following class – students are ready to go out into the field. This is where the fun happens!

Students always get great feedback when they use iPads to collect survey data. People tend to be interested in what they’re doing and happy to participate. Some students this year told me that people came up to them around campus and asked if they could participate. That is much different than the usual online survey where we often struggle to get respondents! I can’t express how rewarding it is to see students go out into the field, collect data, and come back having gathered data no one else has before. For most of them, this is their first time doing data collection of any kind. And so while the class is tough and a lot of work, it is rewarding. You can see the ‘aha’ moments the students have when they start drawing inferences from their data.

Preparing Data for Analysis in SPSS

If you only want to look at summaries of responses, you can check that out in ONA.io. But, if you want to analyze the data you’ve got to get it from the way students labeled it to the #s for SPSS.

For example, in the below example where the question asks the participant their favorite ice cream, if the ‘choices’ in our XLS code is:


And the participant answers “Vanilla” the data collected would be icecream2.

But, SPSS can’t analyze “incecream2.” It can only analyze a number. So, we need every instance when a participant selected Vanilla to be recorded as simply “2” in SPSS.

Here’s how to quickly do this:

Download the data Excel file of the completed surveys. Open in Excel. Replace “icecream” with “” (that is, with nothing – no spaces. Just leave the replace section blank). Excel will remove “icecream” from the Excel file and you’re left with the number for responses such that “icecream2” now is “2”. Repeat this step for each question. For check all that apply questions, ONA.io records “FALSE” for answer choices left blank, and “TRUE” for instances when the participant checked the answer choice. For example, if the question was “Check all your favorite ice cream flavors” and the participant checked “Vanilla,” ONA would record a “TRUE” and if they left it blank, ONA would record “FALSE.” These can be easily prepared for SPSS by replacing FALSE with “0” and TRUE with “1”.

Admittedly, this step is the drawback of using XLS forms. While a little tedious, it is quick and easy to do. Considering the advantages, I don’t mind taking 20 minutes of my time cleaning the data for my students.

When done, I send the student teams their data and we work on analyzing them in class.


Well that’s all for now! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and consider using iPads for survey data collection in your research class, or other classes where surveys could prove valuable!

Here at Shepherd, finals week starts this week. I hope everyone has a great end to the semester!


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