The aim of this blog is always to share some of the things going on with technology at St Andrew’s College and, wherever possible, provide some ideas and inspirations for other schools as well. Some of these innovations take considerable planning and resources such as our work with PowerBI for Educational Analytics, whereas others like this post about online voting are relatively simple.
Recently, the College’s new Head of Senior College Mr John Ruge approached me about moving Prefect voting to an online system. Immediately, there were some questions around how to do his securely and fairly. Paramount in my thinking was ensuring:
- Results were anonymous
- Students and staff could only vote once
- Restrictions could be placed on the number of potential Prefects one could vote for
- Time limits could be enforced for when voting stopped.
A number of people recommended using something like Google Forms or Office365 Forms, both of which are excellent products when used for what they were designed for. The major limitation, however, was there is no way to ensure the voting would be both anonymous and limited to one vote per person. I decided to cast my net a little wider and utilise the excellent Techies For Schools NZ Google Group as well as the Australian MITIE Forum and see if I could crowdsource some alternatives. Some of these included:
It was the latter that caught my attention because it was suggested that using some of the more advanced features around emailing would achieve my main aims of anonymity and restrictions to one vote per person.
SurveyMonkey Setup For Prefect Voting:
We used a basic MS-Query to extract student and staff email addresses and first/last names from Synergetic, our Student Management System. We then loaded these into a CSV file with the first row indicating the header fields:
We needed to analyse votes from three different groups of people:
- Secondary School Teaching Staff
- Current Year 13 Prefects
- Current Year 12 Students
Consequently, we decided to make three identical surveys, but have the different groups above loaded into separate CSV files. Upon setting these up in SurveyMonkey we needed to select “Send by Email” to ensure unique links generated for each voter, rather than a generic link that could be forwarded to people outside the intended voters, or used more than once by the same person:
Choosing “Send by Email” was a key part of achieving the defined aims of online voting.
When choosing “Send by Email” you are invited to submit users from a range of sources and we used the CSV file we had already generated:
You are then able to compose an HTML message to the voter that is sent by SurveyMonkey based off the information from the CSV:
Note the salutation: the use of variables [FirstName] and [LastName] will personalise each email based off the information from the CSV already loaded into SurveyMonkey
Numerous additional variables can be set, some of which we made use of because of our aims included:
- Changes: Respondents can change their answers on any survey page until they complete the survey (alternatively you can allow no changes at all, right through to changes after it’s been submitted but before the cut off date
- Anonymous Responses: exclude ALL respondent information (names, email addresses, IP addresses, and custom data) from your survey results (we chose this, but you can collect all of the above information if you wished)
- Cutoff Date & Time: This was important to ensure timely voting:
The end result, when sent, provided a really smart looking HTML email that encouraged staff and students to vote for 2017 Prefect Leaders:
Note the personalised salutation, the HTML “Vote Now” button and the footer indicating the URL is unique to the recipient.
When votes are opened you can track in real time the number of votes completed, as well as email opens and partial votes, for example:
One of the final tweaks I learnt through this process was how to limit or restrict the number of choices a voter could make from a multi-choice question. This was significant as voters were allowed to select up to twenty student names from the long list of candidates. There were some help instructions available, but the key areas to check were in the options of the multi-choice question:
- For this to work “Require an Answer to This Question” is ticked
- You choose “at most” for number of choices if you want voters to be able to select up to but not exceeding a number of candidates
- You can customise the error message if a voter chooses more than the allowed number of candidates when voting.
With voting completed, it was easy to export as a PDF the graphs showing the candidates with the most votes and allow the leadership team to analyse the data. Now that we know we can generate personalised, single-use and anonymous voting systems through SurveyMonkey I can anticipate we will use this in other areas as well.