BACKGROUND: School-based risk behavior surveys traditionally have been administered via paper-and-pencil. This study assessed the feasibility of conducting in-class online surveys in US high schools.
METHODS: A paper-and-pencil questionnaire assessing computer availability and perceptions of online surveys was mailed to a nationally representative sample of public and private high school principals in fall 2008. Completed surveys were returned by principals from 580 of 704 selected schools. Prevalence and 95% confidence intervals were computed.
RESULTS: Most high schools have at least 1 computer lab, most computers in computer labs are connected to the Internet, and just under half of schools with a stationary computer lab had a sufficient number of computers to accommodate an in-class online survey administration. The 2 most common problems associated with online surveys were logistics of providing enough computers for an entire class and rotating classes into computer labs. Nearly two thirds of principals preferred online to paper-and-pencil surveys when administered to 4 randomly selected classes that met at different times during the school day, but less than half reported this preference when administered to 4 randomly selected classes that met at the same time during the school day.
CONCLUSION: Many schools do not have sufficient computer capacity to participate in a voluntary in-class online survey. An online survey could impose significant perceived and actual burden on schools and therefore could result in unacceptably low school participation rates. Online administration for in-class surveys of students in US high schools are not recommended.