Using Open Source Survey Tools for Qualitative Inquiries on Educational Development at a Distance Online University
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This paper reports on two open source survey tools that were used to gather data related to Athabasca University’s (AU) educational development activities within a qualitative evaluation framework. First, a Moodle questionnaire module was used to assess the educational development needs of faculty. In another instance, Lime Survey served to gather qualitative information for an expert review on the usability of course learning objects from both a technical and pedagogical dimensions. A comparative review of both online tools will be provided from an educational development perspective. It aims to analyze the multiple uses of evaluative instruments as part of a broader discussion on ‘utilization-focused evaluation’ in the context of Higher Education projects. Open education is an integral part of Athabasca University’s organizational culture as one of the pioneering online and distance teaching universities. Therefore, there is a strong institutional support for open source tools such as Lime Survey and Moodle, which is the university’s learning management system (LMS). The databases and servers for each tool are hosted within different units of the Canadian Open University. This level of technical integration within the institution makes it easier to access and use these open source survey tools as part of the academic practice for both faculty and professionals. Within this institutional context, integrating open source tools to conduct qualitative inquiries on recent educational development initiatives sponsored by AU‘s Centre for Learning Design and Development can be viewed as a strategic alignment towards supporting innovative teaching and learning activities. In fact, one of the rationales for using Moodle to conduct a needs assessment was building on AU faculty’s familiarity with the LMS to raise their awareness about the Moodle questionnaire module. One of the outcomes is to make use of this feature to gather additional qualitative feedback from students to enhance course design and development. Similarly, the expert review conducted through Lime Survey provided an opportunity for faculty and professionals to test the tool as well as responding to the object of the qualitative inquiry focused on improving future course learning objects design. Although both qualitative evaluation projects were different in terms of objective and scope, one of the reasons for using these Web-based open source survey tools stem from an institutional commitment to accessibility, flexibility and, ease of use. This factor could have an incidence on participants’ responses and emerging findings from both online qualitative inquiries. At this exploratory stage of the comparative review, it is anticipated that Moodle and Lime Survey will be embedded as part of AU systematic research-based responses to appropriately identify and address educational development needs and challenges.