Using smartphone sensors, apps and wearables in social science research - Online (join a waiting list)


18/05/2021 - 20/05/2021

Organised by:

NCRM, University of Southampton


Bella Struminskaya and Florian Keusch


Entry (no or almost no prior knowledge)


Jacqui Thorp
Training and Capacity Building Co-Ordinator
National Centre for Research Methods
University of Southampton

video conference logo

Venue: Online


Smartphone sensors (e.g., GPS, camera, accelerometer), apps, and wearables (e.g., smartwatches, fitness bracelets) allow researchers to collect rich behavioural data, potentially with less measurement error and lower respondent burden than self-reports through surveys. Passive mobile data collection (e.g., location tracking, call logs, browsing history) and respondents performing additional tasks on smartphones (e.g., taking pictures, scanning receipts) can augment or replace self-reports in surveys. However, there are multiple challenges to collecting these data: participant selectivity, (non)willingness to provide sensor data or perform additional tasks, privacy concerns and ethical issues, quality and usefulness of the data, and practical issues of implementation. This course will address the challenges by reviewing state-of-the-art practices of smartphone sensor, app, and wearables data collection, ranging from small-scale studies of hard-to-reach populations to large-scale studies to produce official statistics, and discuss design best-practices for this type of measurement. Recommendations provided will include:

 •   What research questions can be answered using smartphone sensors, apps, and wearables?

 •   What are participants’ concerns and how to address them?

 •   How to ask for consent for sensor measurements and ensure participation?

As part of this course, participants will have the chance to work on practical issues of implementing smartphone sensors, apps, and wearables into social science research. Participants will discuss their own research study designs using new technology and have the opportunity to present the scenarios of combining survey data with data from health, accelerometery, and location sensors. The course will not discuss analysis of sensor data, nor demonstrate how to program smartphone sensor apps.

The course covers:

  • Contemporary uses of sensor-based data collection in the social sciences
  • Design of surveys with sensor-based data collection components
  • Overview of practical issues when implementing smartphone sensors, apps, and wearables studies and recommendations

By the end of the course participants will:

  • know what smartphone sensors, apps, and wearables are available and what they can measure to facilitate and enhance surveys
  • be able to identify potential applications of sensor and app measurement for their own data collection
  • be able to anticipate practical issues when implementing sensor-based data collection

The course is intended for survey practitioners, researchers, and students who want a practical introduction to smartphone sensors, wearables and app-based research. No prior knowledge of smartphone sensors, wearables, and apps is required, but a basic understanding of survey practice and survey errors is helpful.  

Please note for payment purposes, this is a 3-part course which is the equivalent to 2 days of teaching.

Programme - TBC

Day 1 (approx. 3 hours)

  1. Introduction, course overview
  2. Why add sensors and what can we measure
  3. What types of research questions can be answered
  4. Research and study design

Day 2 (approx. 3 hours)

  1. Research and study design (cont’d)
  2. Practical implementations and operational considerations
  3. Data from sensors, apps, and wearables

Day 3 (approx. 3 hours)

  1. Errors when collecting, processing and interpreting sensor data
  2. Practical examples of sensor data collection and integrating it with survey data
  3. Additional resources, wrap up & questions


The fee per teaching day is:• £30 per day for UK/EU registered students• £60 per day for staff at UK/EU academic institutions, UK/EU Research Councils researchers, UK/EU public sector staff, staff at UK/EU registered charity organisations and recognised UK/EU research institutions. • £100 per day for all other participantsPLEASE NOTE THIS COURSE EQUATES TO 2 TEACHING DAYSIn the event of cancellation by the delegate a full refund of the course fee is available up to two weeks prior to the course. No refunds are available after this date.If it is no longer possible to run a course due to circumstances beyond its control, NCRM reserves the right to cancel the course at its sole discretion at any time prior to the event. In this event every effort will be made to reschedule the course. If this is not possible or the new date is inconvenient a full refund of the course fee will be given. NCRM shall not be liable for any costs, losses or expenses that may be incurred as a result of the cancellation of a course.The University of Southampton’s Online Store T&Cs also continue to apply.

Website and registration:


South West


Survey Research, Survey and Questionnaire Design, Nonresponse, measurement error, data quality , Sensors and wearables

Related publications and presentations:

Survey Research
Survey and Questionnaire Design

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