ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Social research in online context: methodological reflections on web surveys from a case study

Valeria Pandolfini

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 2 - Law Building, Room 026
Date: 2012-07-12 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2012-04-10


The rapid development of new technologies and the growing number of computer’s and Internet’s users have opened up new horizons in conducting social research, providing, also, the access to new tools for data collection. In particular, the diffusion of online surveys has been identified as one of the most significant advances in quantitative methodology in the 20th century, starting a “new era for survey research” (Couper, 2000), till to hypothesize that in future the majority of all survey research will be done online (Evans and Mathur, 2005). The paper aims to explore potentials and impacts of using information communication technology (ICT) and Internet as tools for quantitative research in social sciences (Schonlau et al., 2003; Best and Krueger, 2004), analysing how, and under which conditions, they could optimize the survey process. It focuses on several methodological issues in order to explore potentials of ICTs for improving quality of survey and optimizing questionnaire preparation and corresponding responding process. In particular, the paper shows some advantages in using web survey, that could optimize the comprehensive management of the whole survey process. These could be: fast response speed, lower cost, improved accuracy in encoding data, decreased data entry error (since data is collected electronically through a software program and is then instantly downloaded into a statistical program for detailed analysis), reduction of some data quality problems (such as social desirability bias or survey “satisficing” patterns, Skitka and Sargis, 2005), as well flexibility to fit the necessary conditions of particular research studies. On this last point, the attention focuses on the so-called “potential for interactivity” (Conrad et al., 2005), referring to the opportunity to adapt the questionnaire in order to ensure that respondents answer only the questions that pertain specifically to them (Dillman, 2007). This leads to analyse other interactive options for promoting more accurate survey data or improving the quality of responses, including the opportunity to adjust some items basing on the real time viewing answers or to change the questionnaire interface, design and layout as well as to adapt the level of interactivity with respondents (Ganassali, 2008). The presented methodological issues are deepened through a case study showing the use of two “paging-interactive” web surveys interesting two large samples from an adult blended training course: one (over 15.000 cases) composed by low technically skilled learners and the other (about 800 cases) addressed to their e-tutors.

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