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  1. 1. QUESTIONNAIRES Definition and description of questionnaires A survey is a very traditional method for generating data about people’s thinking. Survey data can be collected either by interviews or questionnaires (Mathers, Fox & Hunn, 2007). Questionnaires are one of the most commonly used types of survey in educational research (Menter, Elliot, Hulme, Lewin & Lowden, 2011). A questionnaire is a tool for gathering data regarding a specific subject of interest and it consists of a list of questions (Corporate Research & Consultation Team, 2008). According to Siniscalco and Auriat (2005), every participant in a questionnaire that is used to gather information about the participants themselves or about a social community such as a school, should answer the same questions and under the same system of responses; this type of questionnaire is called a standardized questionnaire. Questionnaires are usually used to collect both quantitative (i.e. mainly numbers) and qualitative (mainly words) information about facts, activities, people’s attitudes, perceptions, behaviour, abilities, beliefs and values (Menter et al., 2011; Siniscalco & Auriat, 2005). This information can be collected using different styles of questionnaire. Structured or researcher-administrated questionnaires refer to a standard list of questions and answers that are administered by the researcher him/herself. Structured questionnaires are often related to large-scale quantitative data and the main way of gathering this information is by asking the participants questions through telephone and face-to-face interviews and recording their responses. When the respondents fill in the questions by themselves, the questionnaire is called a self-administered questionnaire. Self-administered questionnaires can be collected through postal and electronic means where the questionnaire is handed out or emailed as an attachment to the participants, who complete it and return it to the researcher. Also, a questionnaire can be administered via a website where the respondents can log in and complete the questionnaire using their own computer. A questionnaire can also be a mixture of researcher-administered and self-administered (Corporate Research & Consultation Team, 2008; Menter et al., 2011; Siniscalco & Auriat, 2005). Generally, questionnaire questions can be structured in three forms: closed, open-ended and contingency questions. Siniscalco and Auriat (2005) indicated that in closed (or multiple choice) questions, the respondents are asked to choose from a list of answers which can be
  2. 2. close to their view. There are various ways of presenting closed questions. The respondents might be asked to tick their answers or choose from a set of answers. Closed questions can also be yes/no questions. They can also be presented as different forms of scales: frequency, importance or agreement scales. In open-ended or free-response questions, the respondents are not required to choose their responses but express their view by writing a number, a word or a brief piece of text. The entire answer should be recorded by the interviewer, or by the respondents if the survey is self-administered. A contingency question is a special type of a closed-ended question because it can be applied only to a smaller group of respondents. The determination of the relevance of the question for this group is done by asking them a filter question. “The filter question directs the subgroup to answer a relevant set of specialised questions and instructs other respondents to skip to a later section of the questionnaire” (Siniscalco & Auriat, 2005, p. 28). The experience of using a questionnaire Questionnaires benefit both the researcher and the participants. The reason for choosing a questionnaire as the preferred method for gathering data is that I do not wish to spend much time with people who I do not know because I am shy about speaking face-to-face with strangers. The topic that is planned for my thesis next year will be in the area of Saudi Arabian female pupils’ attitudes towards mathematics and there will be three research questions to be investigated: what attitudes do selected first-year university students have towards mathematics, what personal and social factors do students believe have impacted their attitudes, and how students think their maths achievement has been affected by their attitudes? This study will use a quantitative method (questionnaire) design because questionnaires are a good method for collecting data from a large population at a low cost. It can be done at a distance and it is less time-consuming. A questionnaire is preferred for this study because it may avoid the difficulty of setting up physical appointments with participants who are students and who are often busy. By contrast, it is easy to collect data from these participants because they can fill in a questionnaire at any convenient time, and it allows them to answer sensitive questions when the respondents are shy. In addition, it is easier and quicker to analyse a number of responses. This study will also use a qualitative method (open-ended questions) because this allows free expression and the participants can explain the reasons for their opinions. A questionnaire is easily able to collect data by emailing (web) the participants or directly telephoning or mailing to collect participants’ answers to the questionnaire. The methods that have been rejected in this study are the
  3. 3. interview and observation methods because these are very time-consuming and because it is difficult to cover large sample sizes with these methods. It is also difficult to generalise results easily using this method. From my experience of using a questionnaires, I have created a questionnaire in a similar area to what I am going to do for my thesis. I believe that understanding women’s mathematical ideas in a Saudi context will be interesting topic to research with a large number of participants. The questions in the questionnaire I have already developed are a mix of closed and opened-ended. I sent the questionnaire as an attached document to emails sent to the participants who were from Saudi Arabia. The respondents completed the questionnaires and returned them to me via email. One positive aspect of the survey method used in this past study was its flexibility because it allowed me to gather data from Saudi Arabia using the internet while living in New Zealand. However, one negative was that it took a long time to explain what some questions meant to every participant, especially the opened-ended questions. Some participants became stuck on some of these questions and contacted me again to explain the questions to them. Moreover, the survey did not allow for elaboration of some information and details about the participants’ responses to the multiple choice questions. In some questions, it would have been more interesting if the participants could have explained the reasons for their opinions. However, the main aim of this study was achieved very successfully through the use of the survey tool, which made it a reliable tool. Strengths and weaknesses of a questionnaire The weaknesses and strengths of using a questionnaire in general are discussed by Menter et al. (2011). The strengths are flexibility in gathering a wide range of information and in a short period of time. Although a questionnaire may not be easy to design, it is easy to administer. Statistical techniques are easily used to determine statistical significance, validity and reliability. “There is an economy in data collection due to the focus provided by standardised questions. Only questions of interest to the researcher are asked, recorded, codified and analysed. Time is not spent on ‘tangential’ questions" (Menter et al., 2011, p. 105). Questionnaires take less time to complete, while interviews are more time-consuming. The participants’ responses in a questionnaire cannot be influenced by the researcher, as the responses in interviews might be influenced by revealing the participants’ opinions. Questionnaires are cheap and the data can be gathered from people who are in distant area, whereas interviews can be costly, when they require the researcher to travel to collect data
  4. 4. from a distance (Phellas, Bloch & Seale, 2011). In contrast, questionnaires do not ensure the accuracy of people’s honesty, memory and emotions, as the survey does not allow extensive elaboration of some information and details about the participants’ responses, which give the interviews some advantages over questionnaires because if the participants cannot understand certain questions, the interviewer can explain it to them, and interviews allow the researcher to ask for further details. Although the researcher can obtain a wide range of responses by using a questionnaire, questionnaires often lack the in-depth responses which can be provided by using interviews (Menter et al., 2011; Phellas, Bloch & Seale, 2011). The participants may be not aware of the reasons for their opinions and they may try to show themselves in a good light. Other weaknesses are the challenges of using questionnaires effectively with young children or students with learning disabilities. Participants' non-response may potentially bias or skew the findings for some questions. There is uncertainty about the sincerity or confidence of the responses (Menter et al., 2011). The main advantages and disadvantages of the different forms of questions (closed and open- ended) have been discussed by Siniscalco and Auriat (2005). Closed questions are more manageable because the respondents choose from a limited list of responses, and because of the ease and speed of answering these questions and coding the responses. They allow the variables in a research study to be controlled because the respondents can answer a larger number of closed questions than open-ended questions at the same time. In addition, Menter et al. (2011) added that one advantage of these questions is the rapid analysis of closed questions. However, closed questions do not allow the respondents to express their ideas or explain the meaning of their chosen responses. They permit bias because they force the respondents to choose from the given alternatives and to answer all the questions in the template. The researchers need to be skilful at writing appropriate response categories. The main advantages of open-ended questions are that they allow the respondents to express their views freely in their preferred language, they do not suggest or guide the respondents’ answers, and they provide new and interesting information for the topic. In contrast, they are time-consuming and the respondents may face difficulty answering them. Also they can be difficult to analyse. The advantage of contingency questions is that the data can be collected from a specific group of people, i.e., the questions might be limited to females and not to males, or gathered from students but not from those in the workplace. However, contingency questions might be complicated, and therefore the researcher must ensure that the instructions for the questions are clear to the participants (Siniscalco & Auriat, 2005).
  5. 5. Data analysis strategies Data preparation, descriptive statistics and inferential statistics are three steps included in quantitative analysis. Data preparation is the first step of analysing the data, which includes keeping a comprehensive record of the data, checking the accuracy of the data, "constructing a database, data cleansing" (Menter et al., 2011, p. 193) and data transformation. The descriptive statistics stage is used to summarise the data (whether nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio or discrete and continuous data), which are usually presented by tables or charts. Descriptive statistics are most commonly used in three ways: frequency distribution tables, central tendencies (estimating the average of the values distribution) and dispersion, which “gives an indication of how the values are spread out around the mean” (Menter et al., 2011, p. 203). Frequency distribution is very commonly used because it is a good way to summarise the way that the samples are represented in terms of a specific variable, either in a table or graph. If the frequency distribution is represented by a graph, it will have a combination of percentages and 'key segments'. Interpreting and understanding diagrams is relatively easier than doing so for tables, and diagrams can be easily created by using Microsoft Excel or similar. Inferential statistics is one type of statistics, but the data need to meet specific conditions before the findings can be used to create inferences from the data of a large population. These conditions involve the generation of an appropriate type of data (interval or ratio data), using random sampling to give every potential participant an opportunity to take part and gathering an adequate amount of data to enable the statistical analysis to be carried out. Analysis and data presentation implies ‘transforming’ and ‘making sense’ a large amount of numerical data through using tables or charts. The transformation of data enables the readers to be aware of the significance and meaning of data because this process requires the 'raw data' to be formed, extracted and refined. Making sense of data refers to distinguishing clearly between questions and categorising them under headings. Tables and charts are used to summarise the characteristics of the respondents related to the different criteria or certain variables that were used in the research such as gender and year levels. Presenting all the information in a 'stacked bar chart' may be essential in some research questions in order to be more meaningful. Tables and diagrams are among the most frequently used means of analysing quantitative data (Menter et al., 2011).
  6. 6. Quality and validity of questionnaires Good quality questionnaires may be achieved if the validity and reliability of the method can be ensured. Validity is ensured when the questions achieve what the research aimed to investigate. There are three major measures of the validity of questionnaires: content (experts on the topic agree that the questions measure what they are should measure), empirical (measuring the relationship between the participants’ responses to the questionnaire and their behaviour or outcomes) and concurrent validity, which “consists of measuring the degree to which a variable correlates with another measure, already validated, of the same variable” (Siniscalco & Auriat, 2005, p. 77). In addition, questionnaire validity may be achieved through the language of the questionnaire itself. If the language that the questionnaire was written in is not understandable, it will not be valid (Larsen, Nevo & Rich, 2008). Sun (2009) indicates that we cannot ensure the validity of a questionnaire when it is translated into another language and the second language's cultural context differs from that of the original language. Therefore, before deciding that the translated questionnaire is ready for use, psychometric property evaluation should be used to enhance the validity and reliability of the translated questionnaire. Moreover, failure to ensure that the data are reliable and error-free before analysing the data may affect the validity of the findings, but this can be remedied by cleansing and organising the data. According to Cohen, Manion, Morrison (2007), in quantitative research, validity might be achieved “through careful sampling, appropriate instrumentation and appropriate statistical treatments of the data” (p. 133). Reliability is achieved by obtaining the same result when repeating the same work in the same conditions with the same participants using the same methods. There are two ways to test the reliability of a questionnaire. One way is by asking the same questions in two different parts of the questionnaire with slight changes in the form, expecting that these questions should yield the same information. However, this method does not account for participants’ response variations from day to day. A second way is the test–retest method. This is better than the first approach because the same participants respond to the same questionnaire after several days to compare between the two results (Siniscalco & Auriat, 2005).
  7. 7. Ethical concerns In the case of a questionnaire, no informed consent is needed because consent is implied when the participants complete the survey and return it to the researcher. However, the researcher should include a participant information sheet with the questionnaire. This sheet should explain the study and the benefits gained from the proposed research, informing the participants about their role in the study and that they will be involved as volunteers, and informing them about their right to withdraw from participating at any time. The researcher should also include an explanation about the way that the findings will be used and presented in, the approximate time of storing the information and who will have the right to access the data. The researcher should be committed to maintaining the anonymity of participants and the confidentiality of any individuals’ information. Thus a researcher must present the data in a way that does not identify the participants. In addition, a researcher must inform the participants about any potential harm or risk they may face during the study. However, when the study is conducted through college or university, a researcher must obtain a written informed consent from lecturers or rectors of the university (Connolly, 2003; Drew, Hardman & Hosp, 2008; Hurley & Underwood, 2002; Menter et al., 2011; Orb, Eisenhauer & Wynaden, 2001; Sun, 2009; University of Waikato, 2008).
  8. 8. References Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K.( 2007). Research method in education. In L.Cohen, L. Manion & K. Morrison (Eds.), Validity and reliability (pp. 133–164). London and New York: Routledge. Connolly, P. (2003) Ethical principles for researching vulnerable groups. Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, Belfast, Ireland. Retrieved from Corporate Research & Consultation Team. (2008). Research and consultation guidelines: questionnaires. Kirklees Council. Retrieved from Drew, C. J., Hardman, M. L., & Hosp, J. L. (2008). Designing and conducting research in education. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications. Hurley, J.C., & Underwood, M.K. (2002). Children’s understanding of their research rights before and after debriefing: Informed assent, confidentiality, and stopping participation. Child Development, 73(1), 132–143. Larsen, K. R., Nevo, D., & Rich, E. (2008). Exploring the semantic validity of questionnaire scales. In Proceedings of the 41st Hawaii international conference on system sciences (pp. 1–10), Waikoloa, Hawaii: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Retrieved from Mathers, N., Fox, N., & Hunn, A. (2007). Surveys and questionnaires. The NIHR RDS for the East Midlands, Yorkshire & the Humber. Menter, L., Elliot, D., Hulme, M., Lewin, J., & Lowden, K. (2011). A guide to practitioner research in education. London, England: Sage. Orb, A., Eisenhauer, L., & Wynaden, D. (2001). Ethics in qualitative research. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 33(1), 93–96. Phellas, C. N., Bloch, A., & Seale, C. (2011). Researching society and culture. In C. Phellas & C. Seale (Eds.), Structured methods: Interviews, questionnaires and observations (pp. 181–205). London, England: Sage.
  9. 9. Siniscalco, M. T., & Auriat, N. (2005). Quantitative research methods in educational planning: Questionnaire design. Paris, France: International Institute for Educational Planning/UNESCO. Sun, C. W. (2009).Questionnaire translation and psychometric properties evaluation. SEGi Review, 2(2), 45–51 University of Waikato. (2008). Ethical conduct in human research and related activities regulations. Retrieved from