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The Complete Guide to Creating a Student Engagement Survey. 

Education and communication should not be lost in each other, especially at the college level, however, even as higher education institutions plan strategies for student retention, the number of graduations and persistence rates hasn’t improved in over two decades. Has student engagement evolved over these past 20 years? How can we know that the generation entering their first year of college wants the same things – or communicates the same way – as the Millennials or their parent’s generation did? The honest and easiest answer is that we ask them.

Many colleges across the US have incorporated student engagement surveys into their engagement process. There’s more to creating a student engagement survey than simply formatting a pile of questions and asking your students to respond honestly. As educators, we should be asking ourselves: Are we asking our students the right questions to get them involved and participating in their education – and are we delivering them in a way that promotes the most honest answers?

What is Student Engagement?

Student engagement is when “students make a psychological investment in learning. They try hard to learn what the school offers. They take pride not simply in earning the formal indicators of success, but in understanding the material and incorporating or internalizing it in their lives.” Most students and faculty understand engagement to be the relationship of a student between themselves and their peers, their learning material, and the school and the local community.

One student may be more comfortable – and fully engaged – by only becoming involved in one or two of these relationships, however, there’s the lingering chance that a lack of engagement will lead to the lack of a will to remain in college. This is why student engagement surveys have developed into a crucial element of initiating conversation and finding out exactly what it is students need and require from their college education.

Why Should We Do Student Engagement Surveys?

On our School Experience Toolkit, we emphasize the importance of consistency in the engagement we deliver to students and that we can only truly understand whether the engagement efforts we provide – and what ones we can amend and evolve if we ask them. Our student engagement survey, as a guide and if delivered anonymously can be used “ to understand how engaging and worthwhile your students perceived your lesson for the day to be – and then use that information to make lessons even more engaging and worthwhile.”

Many student surveys are focused on understanding student satisfaction and on their happiness with various college amenities and their learning material. A student engagement survey, however, should ask these questions only as far as they relate to seeking knowledge on the conditions of the learning environment and how students connected with their facilitators and the current day (or various periods) course material. By asking formulated questions surrounding academic challenges, the learning environment, career readiness, support, and that pesky satisfaction question, institutions can analyze the overall data and come up with more specific and actionable changes that are backed by this data.

How Do I Get Students Engaged Enough to Actually (And Honestly) Take a Student Engagement Survey? 

Although mentioning to students the necessity of an engagement survey in order to improve their experience in the college setting, finding ways to motivate students into actually responding to a survey can be a feat in and of itself. There are a few options for sending out student engagement surveys with techniques for getting the largest response possible.

Online Surveys

Administering a survey online may be the most time-effective option for educators. They are being used more often due to the allure that one can reach a large audience in a shorter amount of time, especially since almost 90% of the adult population has access to the internet. However, the response rate could be minimal if you don’t take the proper actions to prompt students to respond.

Other factors that may get in the way of receiving proper answers are the willingness of students to respond honestly, based possibly on their inability to ask questions about the survey in real-time, confusion, or even social norms and how they feel the college wants them to respond. There could also be a bias in responses as those who do may be younger, wealthier, and more tech-savvy – whereas, those who may not be able to respond could be the older portion of students who may feel less comfortable using the internet.

Best techniques for administering an online survey:

  • Make the survey short and the questions easy to understand. Students are less likely to respond to surveys with an approximate completion time of 30 minutes than of 10.
  • The topic of the survey is important. There’s a lower burden on the time-use of completing a survey with an interesting subject than once that seems “boring” or “unuseful.”
  • Design the survey itself strategically. The layout of the survey should be pleasing to the eyes, delivered with a purpose (will ensure fewer people click the “I don’t know” option) as well as given with student fatigue in mind. Many surveys ask the short-answer style questions at the end of surveys (and even tests for that matter), however, by recognizing that students are more alert and keen at the beginning of the survey and placing them in relation to that, can ensure more valuable responses are received.
  • Deliver the survey to students on a platform in which they use every day – with as few clicks as possible. The more “hoops” that students need to go through to get to the survey, the less chance they will complete it. This will also ensure those students who don’t use the internet often but do use it as part of their mandatory education, have a stronger chance of completion.
  • A pop-up on a learning software that involves only two or three questions each day can be more effective than sending a long survey each month.
  • Offer an incentive or reward for completion. This tactic is used by many colleges to persuade students to participate. The chance to win or the option to provide their submission code for a piece of “swag” or both useful ideas.
  • Provide time at the end of class for students to log into their devices or onto a computer lab desktop to complete the survey.
  • Notify students of an upcoming engagement survey, when it has been released, and again a few days later (through personalized invitations and messages).

Paper Surveys

Colleges and educational institutions have been delivering paper surveys for years. They’ve been effective previously and are easy to type and print – or have bubble-style questionnaires created. Students are much more compelled to take a paper survey if class time has been scheduled to complete them and those around them are doing the same. A paper survey, however, can only be filled out by people who are present at the time it is disbursed. Other factors that may become an issue for paper surveys are the environmental impact the paper has – which may cause issues if your institution has implemented a climate initiative. Questions are also unable to be customized according to a certain layout or strategy and students may also feel like their anonymity is compromised as educators may recognize their writing, etc. The influence that the people sitting around them have on their answers could also get in the way of honest results.

Best techniques for administering a paper survey:

  • Incentives, as discussed above, are still a great way of appealing to students to be excited to take the student engagement survey.
  • Try spreading out the survey over a few classes instead of offering all of it at once. A useful technique is to incorporate the survey into your course materials, making it a part of a participation mark, and handing out a one-pager at the end of each class.
  • Create a hybrid survey that includes both an online and paper version of the survey, so those who are more accessible via their devices can complete it according to their own comfortability.
  • Many of the above techniques can be adapted into a paper version as well.

Types of Questions to Ask on a Student Engagement Survey.

There are many available options for choosing how to layout questions and which ones you should be asking. It’s important to conduct a strategy that organizes questions based on answers you hope to receive. Sitting down and brainstorming a hundred questions without a reason can be time-consuming and lead to mixed results.

We’ve gathered some questions for you to consider when developing your student engagement survey. Be aware throughout the creation process that you will be analyzing these results and you should aim to develop questions that are aligned with your unique university, the diversity of students at your institution, their program, and other variables.


Types of Student Engagement Questions


Multiple Choice Questions

  • Today’s course load was:
    a) easy b) relatively easy c) difficult d) very difficult
  • I found value in what we learned in today’s class:
    a) I agree b) I somewhat agree c) I was not paying attention d) disagree

Yes or No Questions


  • In today’s class, I felt focused. Yes or No.
  • I feel that today’s learning was exciting. Yes or No

Short Answer/Thinking Questions


  • I’d be more likely to participate in class discussions if:
  • I wish the college would provide more resources such as:
  • Which of the following statements are true to you?
  • When I am in class, I pretend I am working.
  • I skip classes at least once per week.
  • During the last 3 months: a) I have reached out to a school representative for advice or guidance. b) I have joined a school activity. c) I have attended a social event put on by the college.

There are many opportunities to ask questions that will motivate students to respond honestly and with determination. If you can acknowledge with your students that engagement is part of a successful college experience, they will be more likely to encourage themselves to participate.


How to Analyze Survey Results to Better Understand Where Your Engagement Efforts are Lacking and How You Can Better Deliver Engagement Opportunities to Students.

Gathering the data from students may seem like the hardest part, however, properly analyzing the data you receive is essential. Without the knowledge on how answers are received and why – you’ll be left with hundreds of responses with no actionable results.

To analyze data most effectively, your best options are to hire an experienced analyst or use statistics software that uses artificial intelligence and automated processes to arrange and deliver valuable feedback.

One strategy that has been useful by many institutions: You can categorize your questions into a set of sub-section based on contributing factors, such as academic challenge, active learning, staff, and student interactions, and the enrichment educational experience. These categories, offered by The Journal for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, recommend providing a numerical value to each question’s response. The average score for each sub-section is then scored on a graph or other analytical device in order to better read and interpret results. Of course, if you use software, these will all be completed for you.

Regardless of how you choose to study the data gathered from your Student Engagement Survey, the most important task is the actual implementation of the recommendations that you’ve discovered or been provided. You can accumulate huge amounts of opportunities but without actively seeking methods to actually see them in action, what’s the point? It’s a challenge for educational institutions across the country to adapt and change their engagement methods to the times and to the generation of students who are walking onto campus. By resisting change, you’re also resisting the ability to succeed in a brand new era, and you may be directly inhibiting your students’ chances of success as well.

Are you interested in learning more about Student Engagement Surveys and how you can maximize the outcome of your engagement efforts by utilizing proven techniques and software? Reach out to a member of our team today.