Assessing event-based college student drinking and social context using mobile devices

by | Apr 12, 2018 | Alcohol & Other Drugs, Higher Education, Innovative Methodologies, Survey Methodology


Most surveys of alcohol-use ask about behaviors and patterns that happen days, weeks months or even years ago. It’s all retrospective recollection from study participants. It’s useful for identifying general trends but it’s fraught with measurement errors.  And when the topic of the study is student drinking, errors involving memory can increase — even if you’re asking the question the next day.


We’re working with a team at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health to identify better ways to capture data in the moment, when it is most likely to be accurate and least impacted by recall errors.  Mobile web-based surveys coupled with SMS (text) messaging are providing a new tool for doing this. We capture survey data in the moment with very short questionnaires that are implemented very quickly via SMS invitation. This allows us to get to participants when the experiences are fresh and unfolding– sometimes only minutes or hours after events take place, rather than days, weeks, etc.

In one student drinking study conducted during a homecoming weekend we surveyed over 1,700 students. Students were asked to participate in a sequence of eight surveys over the course of a series of weekend Homecoming events (including a Friday night concert, a Saturday football game, and Saturday night parties).


Short surveys. Mobile optimization.  Invitations to participate via SMS.  On their own, all three technologies prevalent in today’s world – yet rarely integrated into a data collection protocol as we did.  Most web based survey invitations are sent by email — but having participants mobile numbers with approval (obtained by the participants) to use them for the study, we rapidly sped up the process of participation.

Over 88% of those invited participated in the study! And generally, most participants did so within minutes of being invited.  This quick response allowed us to time specific questionnaires to match the events happening on campus.  For example, separate pre- and post-concert surveys were conducted.  Similarly, pre- and post-football game surveys were administered.

The researcher team used the data to show the importance of the role of social context and expectations about alcohol use influences negative consequences around college student drinking.

Our collaborative success with the University of Minnesota research team on this project has launched SoundRocket towards doing exploring other innovative opportunities to further integrate mobile technologies into situational or event based research.

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.