Becoming a Survey Whisperer: Applying a Videoconferencing Tool in Cognitive Interviews to Improve a Questionnaire Used in Higher Education Research


This case study details the experiences of two researchers at a large university in the UK, in carrying out a series of cognitive interviews with students, to examine their interpretations of and responses to items on an institution-wide questionnaire. Cognitive interviewing refers to a set of techniques used to assess the ways in which individuals mentally respond to survey questions, with the aim of exploring the accuracy and consistency of interpretations and, if necessary, making revisions. The research was conducted as part of a wider initiative to review the institution’s use of a standardized questionnaire to evaluate student module experiences and to engage students as co-designers. The case study describes how a face-to-face research activity was adapted for online delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. It considers the three key options for conducting cognitive interviews remotely (telephone, videoconferencing, and web probing) and provides a critical reflection on the ethical and practical challenges and possibilities presented by using videoconferencing as the preferred method. We reflect on our own experiences as researchers, suggest key considerations for those who may wish to engage in online qualitative research activity, and offer links to further helpful resources, to help consolidate and extend readers’ learning.

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