~ 23. July 2010 ~
I gave some online webinar-style library instruction sessions over the last couple semesters and tried a few different registration options. Using SurveyMonkey worked pretty well, so I thought I’d share how I did it for the benefit of anyone in a similar situation.
Registration serves two different purposes in my situation. First, I needed to be sure to keep the number of students below a certain threshold. Second—and more important, since I’ve never hit the upper limit anyway—I needed to force students to show that they are able to connect to our web conference host, and generally that they are sufficiently competent with technology. We use Elluminate, which is provided to all California community colleges for free via the Chancellor’s office, and while it’s dandy for web conferencing, some people just can’t seem to get it to work on their computers. Wasn’t Java supposed to be this breakthrough cross-platform technology that was going to make operating systems obsolete? Am I showing my age by asking that? Well, that never happened, and it seems like every time I attend an Elluminate webinar, the first 5 minutes or more are taken up with technical hangups.
I also learned the hard way that you can tell people about system requirements and show them how to test their system—just as you can tell them to connect ten minutes early—but they won’t actually take those steps unless they are forced to.
SurveyMonkey is not an obvious choice for registration forms. I played around with EventBrite and even used it for one orientation in a previous semester. It’s a slick service, and free if you don’t charge anything for your events, but it automatically sent students a PDF “ticket” that some found confusing. I also liked the idea of a step-by-step sign up process, and EventBrite is a one-page thing. Google Forms could also work, since it allows question and page branching, but I found it difficult to wrangle for my purposes. Since Google has recently beefed up the logic branching on Forms, maybe it would work better now, but I haven’t played with it lately. Our library has an SurveyMonkey pro account, so I figured I’d give it a try. The following may be possible on a standard free account as well—I’m not sure what the limitations of the free account are.
Designing the form
I start the form (feel free to have a look) with some questions about the user’s system. First question is how much RAM their system has (low RAM is bad for a Java program…). If they don’t have enough, they’re sent to a page telling them they don’t meet the requirements. If they choose “Don’t know”, they’re sent to a page telling them they have to find out before doing the survey. I know, that’s harsh, but my guess is that people who don’t know this also don’t know what web browser they use, what Java might be, and so on—not crimes, but potentially indicators that they’re better off doing a library session in person rather than online.
If they succeed in telling me they have more than 256 megs—which might not be true, but these days it most likely is—it’s on to the next tasks, which it’s harder to fake.
I provide a link to Elluminate’s “dummy session” page, where you actually load the Java program and enter a classroom. (Here SurveyMonkey is superior to GForms, since you can insert links and other HTML code.) Once they load the Elluminate classroom, they can see a message on the virtual whiteboard. I have them type that message into the registration form. This way I know that they have successfully loaded the classroom at least once. If they’re using IE, this often means navigating beyond the helpful “blocked download bar” that frequently paralyzes unsophisticated users.
Next, I have them copy a brief passage from the screen and paste it into the form. They’ll have to do this with citations during the session, plus this seems like a basic computer literacy thing—if they can’t do this, what else can’t they do?
Finally, I have them submit some basic info: name, e-mail, etc.
Setting up the collector
SurveyMonkey has an impressive number of configuration options for data collection, a few of which were important to set correctly. One default setting, understandable for a survey, is not to allow more than one submission per IP address. That has to be changed, obviously, since people could be signing up from computer labs.
Under “Change Restrictions,” I set a cut-off date/time. Since I needed to review all of the submitted registrations, I needed time to do that. So on the page people accessed the form from I made it clear that the registration form would close 6 hours before the session. I also set the maximum response count to 15. This can potentially cause a problem because incomplete forms count toward your total—I got many responses where only the first page was filled out (people apparently being either put off or flummoxed by having to open Elluminate). So, it becomes important to check the form submissions every day or two to delete incomplete responses, otherwise people might be told the session is full when it is not.
How did it work?
This process undoubtedly tripped up a few people; as I said, I got some submissions from people who did not get through the whole form. But that’s ok with me. The students I got in the sessions did very well with the technological hurdles, and I was able to jump right in to the orientation with (almost) no troubleshooting.
Confirming registration was a bit labor-intensive. I needed to log in to SurveyMonkey daily (there’s no e-mail alert a la GForms) and go to “Browse Responses” to skim the results. If someone registered but skipped the “copy message from classroom” step, as happened several times, I e-mailed them and said they were not yet registered and to try again. Once someone was registered, I e-mailed them with a message about how to connect to the session. I then needed to collect all the e-mail messages in order to send out a reminder (here a service like EventBrite really has advantages, but also entails some privacy concerns).
You could do more with this—collect information about people’s systems (OS, browser etc.) in order to help with troubleshooting in the future. Or could ask them questions to gauge what draws particular students to webinar-style orientations. I’m not totally sure though that people would want to answer all these questions or that I’d be able to use the information.
Or it may be that another tool exists that would simplify the confirmation and reminder process, or just be better in every way.