I've been thinking lately about the similarity between standardized tests (of the type used in educational assessment) and surveys (of the type used in social science research).
As a student, I was bored by standardized tests. When I had the choice, I declined taking them. The sole benefit was filling admission requirements. Taking standardized tests was a matter of endurance that involved sitting in a room for many hours answering questions in a dry and mostly non-stimulating way. Frequently I felt frustrated that I wasn't allowed to demonstrate what I knew.
I do, however, understand why standardized tests exist. I'm not trying insult the intelligent people who create and maintain those tests. My concern is for the test-taker: Standardized tests are typically to be withstood rather than happily anticipated. Perhaps it seems strange to hope for a test to be engaging, but as we demand ever more standardized testing, would it kill us educators to make the experience a little more enjoyable? Alas, this is not my domain.
But I face a similar prospect as I contemplate how to gather information for a (very small) research study of my own. Basically, I would be asking my subjects to endure a standardized test. Granted, the scale and difficulty would be much less than an academic test, but I can imagine it still being more of a chore than a pleasure. I know that when I'm in the position of filling out a survey, I whip through the questions as quickly as possible and have very little patience for poorly worded or unclear communication. Does this generate genuinely useful research? Probably not.
So what I need to do is engineer a fun survey method. I think there are a few ways of doing this. First, I could try the old 'hide the medicine in the candy' trick, where the survey is concealed in a more exciting activity. Maybe I could embed my survey into one of those quizzes people are always taking on Facebook, for example. Or, I could perform a test that's basically invisible to the subjects. As long as my standards are clear beforehand, and variables are controlled, that might work. I think either of these approaches would be preferable to the 'pity me, please take my survey' technique of data-gathering.