Fun with Qualtrics! Using an online survey platform to evaluate library instruction sessions

The HKBU Library instruction session feedback form

The HKBU Library instruction session feedback form

Text by: Chris

At my library, we have long collected statistics on how many instruction sessions librarians conduct each year, how long they last, and how many participants attend. These are obviously important data, but they don't tell us anything about what our students think about the instruction they are receiving. Of course, we do assess in-class exercises to check that they are achieving the intended learning outcomes, but we wanted to supplement this with feedback directly from workshop participants. 

Eventually we settled upon using Qualtrics, an online survey platform used by many organizations around the world. Our university has a site license to the Qualtrics, so making use of it was no extra cost to the Library. We devised a very simple two-minute evaluation with a few simple questions - see the screenshot for details of what we asked. Starting last August, we asked students in our instruction sessions to fill in the survey online at the end of class (some sessions, like basic orientations, were excluded).

It's now one year later, and we have over 4,300 responses. Although an individual report was compiled for each session, I was also interested in finding out what insights we could dig out of this big dataset. Of course, for the scale questions we could easily get an average rating for each. I thought that analyzing the free text questions would be trickier, but Qualtrics has a neat word cloud function as one of its report options.

Using this word cloud visualization, I could produce illustrations of the words that occur most frequently in the evaluation form responses. Here are the clouds for each of the three free text questions:

Q: Please list the most useful things that you learned from this session:

Q: Please list the things that are still not clear to you:

Q: Feel free to leave any other additional comments here (e.g. suggestions for improvement):

Looking at the clouds, we can see that our students found search and citation to be particularly useful. Librarians generally made their points clearly, as "none" or "nothing" were the most frequent responses participants gave when asked what was still unclear to them. It was also encouraging to see words like "good" and "great" appearing frequently in the additional comments!

Of course, this analysis can only provide a general overview, and it is important to look at the results for each individual session as well. Nevertheless, these word clouds provide a nice summary, and were useful to include in the annual report to the library administration.

If you have access to Qualtrics at your institution, I would highly recommend trying it out. The interface is fairly user-friendly, and it can be put to many useful purposes.