The roundtable “Polling, Politics, and the Populace” is a great overview of the insights sociologists can provide to polling. While there are several aspects you could discuss the classroom, one of the key points highlights the difficulty of asking questions. To illustrate this, students could create a few survey questions in class after reading the roundtable.
Have the entire class brainstorm a topic and audience for a fictitious survey. Then, have students break into groups. Each group should develop three questions about the topic. After 10 minutes, ask each group to write their questions on the board. Then, discuss the questions as a class. Are they closed or open-ended (you could also specify this in the directions so all are closed-ended), and why might this matter? What do they measure? How are they different? Are there ambiguous words, jargon, or other confusing aspects? Would there be difficulties with in-person polling? Etc.
Please welcome Guest Blogger, Nathan Palmer. Nathan is faculty in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Georgia Southern University, where he teaches Introduction to Sociology, Social Problems, and Environmental Sociology. Nathan’s research interests are focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning, inequality, education, and environmental sociology.
Nathan is also the editor of the teaching sociology focused blog SociologySource.com. The post below is the first in a series of 3 posts by Nathan.
Teaching students how to design a survey can be tricky because the process is deceptively easy. Students think, “Hey, I have taken tons of surveys before. How hard can it be?” They then proceed to break every rule of good design that you discussed in class.
A simple, quick, yet effective activity to teach good survey design is to have your students take a survey that is horribly designed. I tell my students that I want no talking and then pass out a survey about internet usage (download it here). Every question on the survey is either double barreled, leading, biased, or has response options that make no sense or overlap. After a few minutes I tell them to stop and ask what they think of the survey. They uniformly say it’s awful.
Students really like this activity. Typically they laugh out loud when reading the questions. I have them pair up and identify everything that is wrong with the questions. As a class we go through each question picking it apart. We then formulate new questions that don’t violate any of the basic survey design rules.
The activity is also beneficial because students get to take home an example of what not to do that they can compare their work against when creating their own survey. Pedagogically I really like this activity because it has the students playing an active role in their education. Also, the “bad survey” is formatted well so you can tell your students that their survey should look like the example you gave them, but with much better questions.
Download the Survey (pdf Version)