Another dot in the blogosphere?

Poll position

Posted on: January 27, 2021

Today I reflect on a COVID-19 poll and compare it to end-of-course surveys.

Evaluating the above-mentioned poll result at face value, would you consider 6 out of 10 a good outcome?

Compared to pre-COVID-19, such a finding could be a good thing. But given how polls and surveys are not always designed and conducted scientifically, you might pause for thought.

That is not where I stop unless I was conducting a course on descriptive statistics and survey design. Instead, I focus on the purpose of a poll or survey — to take a snapshot of self-reported behaviours in this case.

A critically-minded person might ask if self-reporting is sufficient. After all, it is one thing to make a claim (e.g., I will keep sanitising my hands in future) and actually doing it. Other points of triangulating data like observation of behaviours and measuring sanitiser use would help determine the latter.

End-of-course surveys suffer the same weaknesses. They are about perception and self-reporting behaviours of students. If we are to really get a bead on learning, we need to pursue its longer tail, e.g., if and how students actually apply knowledge and skills in context.

This is not to say that end-of-course surveys have no use. Like the post-COVID-19 behaviour poll, they are quick snapshots of user perceptions. But they must be recognised as such. Like the quality of information from a single photo compared to that in a video clip, it is important to recognise the limitations of such a survey.

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