Student Surveys: Tips To Boost Student Engagement And Interest In Responding

Philip Cleave
November 17, 2023
Students responding to a student survey

For many years now the online survey has been the ‘go to’ strategy to identify what people want from a product or service, thanks to the ability it offers to quickly reach out and gather feedback from respondents. And the popularity of this approach is no different within the education and student community.

From the standards of teaching and the quality of course content to the state of the campus facilities, wider student experience and more. When they’re run regularly, universities and colleges can use student surveys to help improve the quality of education and support for students.

Yet, it can be challenging for institutions to make the improvements they need if they don’t have enough data to work with. This problem isn’t uncommon, especially when you consider all the other distractions and noise your survey invite must contend with, which can easily leave it going unnoticed and unanswered. With the average online survey response rate lying anywhere between 5-30%, institutions are having to be increasingly clever and innovative to get students to engage with and complete their surveys.

So, with that in mind, here are some tips to help increase your student engagement and response rates.

Thinking outside the box

When it comes to distributing online surveys, email is still one of the most popular and accessible methods of collecting data. Yet, when you consider that nearly 50% of global emails are spam, and only around 20% of emails are opened and 2-3% of them clicked, then survey administrators need to get a bit more creative to encourage engagement and survey completion.

Email surveys can easily become buried under a sea of spam or not seen at all. So, to avoid this, you could try posting a web link or QR code to your surveys in applications such as your learning management system (LMS) or anywhere else that serves as a central hub for student course contents, announcements and academic resources. Your LMS will already be familiar to students and accessible to both on-campus and remote students, making it the perfect place to host your student surveys.

Another strong alternative is SMS surveys, which offers a wider reach and instant engagement. According to research 90% of people will read a text within the first 3 minutes of receiving it. And in one study, people were even found to be more likely to disclose sensitive information via text message, making SMS surveys more beneficial in terms of their ability to gather honest student and faculty feedback.

While creative methods will certainly help you to increase your survey response rates, don’t remove email from your strategy completely, as it can still be valuable if it’s set up in the right way.

One of the most important things to do if you’re sending your surveys by email, is to let students know it will be coming from your institution’s domain, as that way they will be far more likely to open it. Survey software features such as custom domain names, white labeling and branded templates are extremely valuable in helping you achieve this.

In addition, if you’re using email or SMS surveys, don’t be scared to send reminders, as students who receive reminders will be more likely to complete it.

Make time in lessons to complete surveys

Another way to boost survey response rates is to set aside time during lessons for students to complete your survey.

Make your surveys more accessible and get richer feedback by incentivising students with time during teaching - whether that’s lectures, seminars or other classes - to ask questions about and complete your survey. Consider implementing short polls into lessons, or surveying the class for feedback after new material is presented. You could use a QR code, to collect results in real time.

Interestingly, while there has been much recent debate about the use of smartphones in classes, they can actually be quite beneficial when it comes to completing online surveys. In a recent study, over 90% of students surveyed they would like to use their smartphones in class for academic purposes including class check-ins and answering in-class polls.

A useful tip if you’re running in class student feedback surveys, is to ensure whoever is co-ordinating it leaves the room while students are completing it. This will ensure you make students feel as comfortable as possible to leave honest and unbiased feedback.

Consider your design

First impressions are everything and that applies to surveys for students, just as much as any other audience groups.

It may sound obvious, but creating clean, well-designed surveys helps increase engagement and in turn student response rates.

When thinking about your survey design, be sure to include a short but informative introduction that helps set expectations for respondents. In this section, you can not only specify the topic of your survey but indicate considerations such as whether the survey is anonymous or not, what will be done with the feedback, and any other specifications you may have.

You can also use your survey design to ensure you’re mindful of students' time. For instance, consider using a progress bar so respondents can track how much they’ve done and how much they still need to complete. In fact, studies reveal that 87% of students are more willing to complete a survey if you do this.

Generally speaking, most respondents including students will respond more favorably to shorter rather than lengthier surveys. However, if you need to run a longer survey, you can help maintain students’ interest through logic features such as skip logic, that only presents respondents with relevant questions based on the answers they’ve given to earlier questions. This ensures the shortest and most relevant pathway through a survey, to help maximize respondent engagement and their likelihood of completing the survey.

Capture student feedback outside of lessons

For times when in-lesson surveys aren't possible, you could opt for further methods to reach them outside of the classroom. In addition, to the survey distribution methods we’ve already discussed, offline surveys can be a really good option if you need to collect feedback and insights from students in locations with poor or totally absent WiFi access. As such, offline surveys are a great option for off-campus events like conferences, networking events, field studies and more.

Kiosk surveys are another good alternative, particularly in high traffic areas where students are in less of a rush such as a library or student common room. The kiosk survey can either be administered via a freestanding touchscreen display device, or a tablet with survey software such as SmartSurvey’s loaded onto it and the kiosk mode enabled. With either approach you can collect student feedback at scale and benefit from your surveys automatically transferring from the completed page, back to the start page, as one student finishes your survey, and another starts it.

If you’re having a tough time getting their attention you might also consider offering a small incentive to students walking by, like a snack or a notebook; just enough to persuade them to stop and give you a few minutes of their time.

Share your results to encourage future participation

Unless your survey involves confidential results, like individual tutor group feedback, it's good to be able to share your results with students throughout your campus.

When you create a feedback loop and students feel that their opinion is welcomed and valued, it helps increase their engagement, as well as their likeliness to provide feedback to future surveys.

If you intend to use their feedback in making meaningful changes or decisions, it’s prudent to mention this in your survey invitation.

Concluding thoughts

We hope you enjoyed reading this blog.

When it comes to ideas about how to improve their education and wider experiences students have a lot that they can contribute. So, it’s important to do everything you can to increase their response rate to your surveys, as the more data you have to work with the more you’ll be able to reflect this and make the improvements you need.

If you can incorporate some of the ideas, we’ve discussed to keep students engaged and interested enough to complete your surveys, you’ll be well on your way to achieving this.

Ultimately, the success of students and the institutions where they’re studying relies on a healthy volume of good quality feedback data. So, there’s no time to waste when it comes to increasing your survey response rates.

Get the right tools to support student engagement and survey activities

While strategies to improve student engagement and survey response rates are vital, you still need the right tools to create great looking surveys, reach your students and analyze and take positive actions with their data.

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