Keynote John Richardson (Open University, UK)


Questionnaire-based research on student learning in higher education


Questionnaires can be used to measure various aspects of student learning in higher education. First, they can be used to monitor students perceptions of their academic environment. These might relate to their perceptions of particular teachers or courses or their perceptions of entire degree programmes. The Australian Course Experience Questionnaire and the UK National Student Survey are examples of the latter. Second, questionnaires can be used to monitor the students approaches to studying. Interview-based research carried out in the 1970s identified three predominant approaches to studying in higher education: a deep approach, a strategic approach and a surface approach. Questionnaires are needed to measure these approaches in large numbers of students. Third, questionnaires can be used to monitor the students level of engagement with their programmes or their institutions. The US National Survey of Student Engagement is an example of this. Finally, questionnaires can be used to obtain accounts of the amount of personal development that students have experienced as a result of their studies.
All questionnaires need to be evaluated in terms of their reliability and validity. Aspects of reliability include testretest reliability, split-half reliability and internal consistency. Aspects of validity include face validity, content validity, construct validity, convergent validity and criterion validity. Even when questionnaires have been found to be reliable and valid in one context, their reliability and validity need to be evaluated from scratch if they are transferred to some other context. A more fundamental point is that filling out a questionnaire is not a simple matter of neutral reporting but a discursive act. The responses that a person gives (and indeed their willingness to respond at all) depend upon their understanding of the purpose of the research. Their responses can also be affected by various kinds of response bias, and these can generate artefactual trends in the results. Finally, there are ethical issues involved in the administration of questionnaires and in the collection and analysis of personal data.