Using the Internet to give children a voice: an online survey of 10 and 11 year old children in Northern Ireland
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work Queen's University Belfast Belfast, Northern Ireland
Over the years, researchers from different disciplines have utilised a wide variety of research methods to assess the views of children. Particularly common are qualitative methods such as focus groups and small group discussions. Much rarer are large-scale quantitative surveys, which are a valuable way of comparing data from across different age-groups, countries and over time. One reason for this may be the high cost involved in carrying out face-to-face interviews. Additional factors may be that such surveys are also time-consuming and difficult to coordinate. Postal surveys may be particularly unsuitable for children due to the level of reading skills required, as well as the difficulty in acquiring a representative sample. Cognizant of the difficulties of carrying out surveys with children, a number of researchers have used computer-assisted self-administered interviews (CASI) in schools. CASI enables questionnaires to be child-friendly and fun to complete. The main drawback with this method of carrying out survey research with children is the issue of confidentiality, since responses are held on a database located on the computer. One way of overcoming this is to use the Internet; the respondent?s answers are entered into a remote database accessible only to the researchers which offers reassurance to the children that their friends and teachers cannot see their responses. To test the feasibility of carrying out a large survey using the Internet in schools, we carried out a pilot survey of the views of children in Northern Ireland in June 2008. There were two notable innovations; firstly, it was a survey of all Primary 7 children (age 10 and 11 years), and secondly, it used the Internet to gather the information which has not been done on this scale before. The paper will discuss how well this method for collecting information from children worked in practice, the quality of information received and the response rate achieved. It will also consider lessons learned for future KLT surveys and for other surveys with children using a similar methodology.