Monday, 29 October 2012

Would you mind if I asked you a few questions...

I teach at an international summer school for 5 weeks every July/August and they kindly let me loose in their computer room provided I have booked it in advance for my class of 14 – 17 year olds.

Due to the international nature of the student demographics, the class members find it interesting to learn about the home countries of their classmates. To this end, I have in the past made use of the Survey Monkey website where the students could make a 10 question survey to find out commonalities and differences between their homelands.

Here's a free lesson plan for you...
The students are paired up, usually with someone with a different L1 to promote the use of English in negotiating the design and questions, and each pair is assigned a different area of daily life to write their survey on. I have used a ‘pull a topic out of the bag’ approach in order to avoid arguments. The topics include: education (always very popular), transportation, free time activities (socialising), film, TV and music, traditions and national holidays, and tourism. Survey Monkey offers the possibility of different question types which cover both closed and open responses and the students are instructed to use a mix of these.
A demonstration survey can be created on the IWB to show the students how to use the site. Seeing as the Olympics were being held during summer school this year, I used this as a topic for the demo survey. The students supplied the questions and were able to see how the survey was built on the Survey Monkey website. A discussion of the different types of responses was also included in this stage.

Here is a very basic example of a survey on education with 5 questions

After creating their surveys, I collected the web links from the students and shared them with the class in the form of a word document with links which I had opened on each computer before their next computer room lesson. Each student then completed the all of the surveys. Just to add an element of anonymity to the whole proceedings, the students did not know which survey had been written by which students. There is no originating identifier on the surveys.

Finally, the original pairs regrouped and returned to the Survey Monkey website where they clicked on the ‘Analyze Results’ tab to discover the responses. The default view seen by the students when clicking on this button gives them the responses in percentages for all but the open ended questions where they can choose to ‘View responses’ to read each comment. It is possible to view the results in other ways but only if you upgrade to a payable account.

Following the analysis, the pairs prepared a short presentation to report their findings to the class.
My students enjoyed this activity so much that they asked if they could send the surveys to other classes to get a broader range of responses. The Survey Monkey free account allows for 100 responses so with only 70-odd students in the summer school, this was easily doable.

The description above shows how Survey Monkey can be used among students who wish to find out more about each others’ countries but there is no limit on what the surveys can be set on. Both students and teachers alike can quickly and easily devise surveys on any topic. These could range from a self-evaluation to reflect on a student’s own participation and performance in a task, to gathering students’ views on nuclear disarmament as a springboard towards a discussion.  

The Survey Monkey website is available in 15 languages (at the time of writing) so it is also easy to use with lower level students who may feel a little overwhelmed by having to create not only the questions and answers for the survey, but also navigate the site in a different language. The biggest hurdle I found as a teacher was understanding what all the different response types actually meant and how to choose which was the most appropriate for the type of question. I found that it was only really by experimenting and trying different options out that I could end up with a functional, user friendly, and aesthetically pleasing result. However, once mastered, it was simply a matter of showing my students how to use a selection of the response types and advising them not to use the others for the specific task.

Admittedly, Survey Monkey does provide a fairly limited type of activity and it isn’t really something that could be used on a weekly basis but as a student-centred interactive tool, it is worth a look.

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