The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

SoTL Methods Series #3: Survey

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Written by Jennifer Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

Survey research is that which uses directed questioning (via interviews, focus groups, or written questionnaire) to understand the perceptions, knowledge, or attitude held by a group of people about a given topic. In SoTL research, surveys are used to gather perceptions of stakeholders to better understand a particular teaching or learning question. Each of the types of survey research are briefly defined below:

  • Interviews and focus groups are types of surveys that allow face-to-face conversations between researchers and participants in a study to answer a variety of questions about a topic. Whereas interviews are typically conducted with a researcher and a single participant, focus groups typically involve a larger participant group (e.g., one researcher and a group of 6-8 participants).
  • Written questionnaires are a type of survey that allows participants to answer a variety of standardized questions about a topic for analysis and interpretation. Written questionnaires can be paper-based or electronically-based. There is no direct, face-to-face interaction between researcher and participant when using a written questionnaire.

Trochim (2006) indicates that there are two critical steps in conducting a survey-based research study: selection survey method to be used and construction of the actual survey instrument. A very helpful list of considerations for these steps can be found at

One of the primary considerations of survey research is how to best reach your intended pool of participants in order to increase your overall response rate. Written questionnaires can be distributed via paper-based or electronic-based (email, course management software, or direct link to survey software such as Survey Monkey) methods. Increasingly, researchers are using social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) to assist in recruiting participants for all types of survey-based research. Suggestions are offered on several sites to maximize participant recruitment for surveys and focus groups.

Benefits of survey research include: low cost to researcher, typically better demographic representation in participant group than with other methodologies, less subjectivity in administration with good survey design, and increased precision in data collection (Bishop-Clark & Dietz-Uhler, 2012). Drawbacks of survey research include less flexibility in data interpretation and a need to ask questions carefully to minimize inconsistencies in participant interpretation of questions.

Exemplar SoTL research articles using survey methodologies include the following:

Gaston, S. & Kruger, M. L. (2014). Students perceptions of volunteering during the first two years of studying a social work degree. International Journal for the Scholarship of teaching and Learning, 8(2), article 11.

McNamara, T. & Bailey, R. (2006). Faculty/staff perceptions of a standards-based exit portfolio system for graduate students. Innovative Higher Education, 31(2), 129-141.

Finally, the following non-research reference might be helpful to any scholars seeking more information about case study-based research:

Fowler, F. J. (2009). Survey research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Blog References:

Bishop-Clark, C. & Dietz-Uhler, B. (2012). Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning: A guide to the process, and how to develop a project from start to finish. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Friberg, J. & Cox, M. (2014, October). Selecting methodologies for your SoTL research projects workshop: Supplemental workshop resource. Unpublished paper.

Trochim, W. M. K. (2006). Survey research. Downloaded from

One thought on “SoTL Methods Series #3: Survey

  1. Pingback: Seeking Blog Contributors for Fall 2017 SoTL Methods Series | The SoTL Advocate

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