Is now a good time? Surveying higher ed students in a pandemic

by | May 8, 2020 | Social Science Business, Survey Methodology, Survey Operations

Cross-posted from Leadership Thoughts, a blog of the Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership. View the original post here.

By Scott D. Crawford

One of the most common questions I am fielding today—with COVID-19 spreading across the nation, is now a good time to conduct surveys? Is the pandemic having an impact on response rates?

As one of my favorite grad school professors, Mick Couper, loved to say, “It depends.”

Whether one engages in a survey right now will depend on their current status. This may not be a good time to survey emergency department staff. Professionals who are engaged in conducting online surveys may also have their hands full of work (from home) and may not have much extra time to spare. But if you are surveying the general population, with exploding rates of unemployment, you may have better luck. Students in higher education have been ripped from their regular social routines and disconnected from others. They may welcome an opportunity to share their experiences.

The Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership was actively collecting data for a handful of schools when the pandemic broke out, and while the evidence is anecdotal, there does seem to have been a lockdown bump in response among undergraduate students.

In other efforts, SoundRocket (the MSL data collection partner where I work) has seen tremendous cooperation to other interview requests. These include web-based surveys as well as live televideo interviews (LTIs) conducted over video conference platforms like Zoom. In general, people have time on their hands and they welcome opportunities to engage with others in a positive way.

The survey industry is sharing what they are learning. I have included a few relevant articles that you may want to read on this topic.

But the real answer to the question about whether or not the coming months is a good time to survey students in higher education I answer with the return question—can you afford not to survey students in these challenging times?

  • In a time with limited contact with students can you afford not to have the deep insights a well-designed survey could bring you about their capacity to navigate this new world?

  • Can you maintain a competitive advantage in today’s environment without understanding how it is impacting your students?

  • Could a series of surveys help to reconnect your students and give them an opportunity to engage with the campus in new ways?

  • Could a survey give you and your students a small sense of normalcy that is lacking at the moment?

Survey professionals continue to survey and in higher education, there is growing evidence that students will engage.

So yes, you can survey during a pandemic.

The only question that remains is whether your student input is valuable enough for you today to help make decisions that could impact the future of your institution.

Related Articles to Read:

At SoundRocket, we cut our teeth surveying students in higher education. Their access to email and web technologies made our services an excellent fit for academic researchers who wished to engage in innovative methodologies. We have built upon those successful projects, with a growing list of large-scale standardized research studies led by scientific research teams. If you’re in search of a partner for your climate survey of higher education settings, consult with the experts at SoundRocket.

Currently, the FDA only regulates true direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests, which have no health care provider involved either before or after testing. Consumer-initiated, physician-mediated genetic tests are considered lab developed tests (LDTs), which currently do not require FDA oversight. 


Our Study Design

Our study was designed to simulate the experience of an everyday person who is considering doing a health-related genetic test. For this reason, we only reviewed website contents presented to a consumer before ordering a test. By limiting our data collection to pre-test content, instead of digging around or contacting the companies to fill in missing data points, gaps in public-facing information that consumers use to make ‘informed’ decisions were revealed.  

Also, while a genetic counselor supervised the project, a research assistant (RA) conducted most of the website investigations. The RA was familiar enough with genetics and genetic testing to understand and identify the information presented on the websites, but has not had the clinical exposure that might create bias from knowing how specific tests work “behind-the-scenes”. 


To Sum Up

We set out to understand the landscape of health-related consumer genomics testing from the public perspective. By limiting our research (by design) to public-facing pre-test website content, we could not complete our data collection as set out in the protocol. However, this uncovered an important observation: consumer genomics websites are highly variable in content, readability and ease of use. 

This begs the question, if we can’t find basic test information on a consumer genomics website, how does a consumer have enough information to make an informed choice about testing? 

Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series, where we will dig into our study findings and reveal our most interesting observations.  



As experts in FDA user comprehension studies for consumer genomics companies seeking 510(k) clearance, we are interested in how everyday people access and understand health content that is meant for them. If you need help optimizing your consumer-directed health communications, we’ve got the in-house expertise and experience to meet your needs. Let’s chat

About the Author

Scott D. Crawford

Scott D. Crawford is the Founder and Chief Vision Officer at SoundRocket. He is also often found practicing being a husband, father, entrepreneur, forever-learner, survey methodologist, science writer & advocate, and podcast lover. While he doesn’t believe in reincarnation, he’s certain he was a Great Dane (of the canine type) in a previous life.