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Respondent Burden Among Students

Every year a host of requests for surveys of Georgetown students arise. Some are from external researchers and university consortia, studying attitudes and behaviors of interest to them. Others come from within, from student organizations curious about their impact, from faculty with research questions, and from staff seeking “customer” reactions.

Each of these surveys seeks precious time from the students. Each of the surveys requires support from those University offices having contact information for students. With the proliferation of surveys comes “survey fatigue.” And with fatigue comes declining response rates. These, in turn, can produce questionable survey results.

Survey research has scientific bases. Small variations in question wording can have big effects on answers. The order of questions can affect answers. The sponsorship of the survey can affect who is disposed to participate. Although surveys merely appear to be sets of questions, and “everybody knows how to ask questions,” surveys are not for amateurs. Bad surveys often yield useless results.

To reconcile these competing interests, last year the University adopted a student survey policy. This policy aims to balance the benefit of survey information with the burden that surveys impose on our students. To achieve this balance, this policy manages and limits the number of University-sponsored surveys that students are invited to take. It coordinates the timing of surveys to maximize their effectiveness. It also promotes good survey design and sound survey practices. Finally, this policy ensures that student surveys benefit the University as a whole.

The Georgetown University student survey policy mandates the following:

  • Anyone seeking to survey 100 or more Georgetown University students must apply to the Office of Assessment & Decision Support (OADS) for permission to administer the survey. Applicants can include administrators, faculty and students within Georgetown, as well as any organizations outside the University. Applicants are strongly encouraged to submit their applications at least 3 months in advance of the proposed survey launch date. The online application form can be accessed by clicking here.
  • All applications to survey Georgetown students will be referred to the Student Survey Oversight Group, which must review and approve any new student survey. Appointed by the provost, members of this group will consider the new survey in light of existing surveys to minimize any duplication and avoid scheduling conflicts. They will review the survey’s design and methodology (e.g., sampling, incentives) to ensure alignment with best practices. They will also verify that the survey complies with FERPA requirements and meets the IRB’s approval, which must be obtained separately. Finally, this group will consider whether the new survey’s findings are likely to serve the broader interests and priorities of the University.
  • The oversight group may approve the new survey; it may approve the survey with conditions attached; or it may decline to approve the survey. Where approved, the principal investigator works with OADS to construct a schedule for the survey. The student survey calendar is available by clicking here.
  • For approved survey proposals, the Office of Assessment & Decision Support will provide student contact information (usually email addresses) required for the new survey. Unless there are compelling reasons to employ a census, the list of students should be produced using a randomly drawn sample. The principal investigator will work with OADS to determine the target population and the minimal sample size needed to yield statistically significant results. Note that no other office may provide this list of student email addresses without the consent of OADS. The principal investigator must be willing to share the survey data and findings with OADS.

Through this policy we seek to reserve the time of students only to the most important measurements and to maximize the benefits of student surveys to the whole university.

One thought on “Respondent Burden Among Students

  1. Does this policy apply to GUOA for those rare occasions when there might be an Advancement/Development/Fundraising reason for surveying current students?

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Office of the ProvostBox 571014 650 ICC37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057Phone: (202) 687.6400Fax: (202)

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