Smartphones and Mobile Sensors in Online Surveys: Opportunities and Challenges

Course Code


Organised by

NCRM, University of Southampton


Professor Mick Couper and Dr Peter Lugtig with contributions from Dr Olga Maslovskaya, Professor Gabriele Durrant and Professor Peter Smith


18/06/2019 - 19/06/2019


Building 39, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, Hants


View in Google Maps  (SO17 1BJ)


Jacqui Thorp
Training and Capacity Building Co-ordinator - NCRM
Tel: 02380 594069


Mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) are increasingly being used by respondents to complete Web surveys. This presents a number of design challenges for survey researchers. Smartphones also offer a number of added possibilities for survey designers, such as the use of GPS to track movement, apps to trigger measurement at set times (ecological momentary assessment), the possibility of capturing images, and other features. This course will focus on the design implications of the rise of mobile device use for survey research. The research evidence will be reviewed, and the various options for accommodating mobile Web users will be discussed. The challenges of using the enhanced features of mobile phones for general population surveys will also be reviewed on day 1 of the course.

The day 2 will start with the discussion of data quality in mixed-device online surveys in the UK.

Also on day 2, we will further explore the opportunities and challenges of doing mobile surveys through a browser or via an app. We will zoom in on the types on contextual data that can be collected using mobile phone sensors. Such data include data on movement (e.g. to measure activities), locations or the environment (light, noise). Participants can work with an example dataset derived from an app that tracked respondent and measured their geo-locations.

The course is focused on situations where respondents are using their own devices, i.e., the designer has little control over the device used. Participants are encouraged to bring their own example surveys to the course to discuss.

The course covers:


  • The rise in mobile Web use and what it means for Web surveys (day1)
  • How to identify mobile Web users (user agent strings and paradata) (day 1)
  • How Web surveys on a mobile device are different from those on a PC (day 1)
  • How to design Web surveys to accommodate mobile users (mobile optimization) (day 1)
  • Data quality in mixed-device online surveys in the UK (day 2)
  • Opportunities and challenges of using apps vs mobile to do social research (day 2)
  • Measuring contextual data through mobile phone sensors (day 2)
  • How location data can be used to provide rich information on what respondents do (day 2)

By the end of the course participants will:

  • Learn how the use of mobile devices is affecting Web surveys
  • Learn ways to identify mobile device users
  • Learn about the options for dealing with mobile device users
  • Learn how to design Web surveys to minimize measurement error differences and accommodate mobile users
  • Learn about data quality issues in mixed-device online surveys specifically in the UK context
  • Learn about the advantages and challenges of conducting surveys through browsers/apps
  • Learn about the possible uses of mobile phone sensor data
  • Practice working with an example dataset on geo-location for a small set of respondents

For day 2, participants will need to use computers available in the lecture room or they can bring their own laptops. If they actively want to practice working with location-data, the laptops need to include working version of R (version 3.5.x) or SPSS (version 22 >). Other statistical software can also be used, but examples are only worked out in R or SPSS. All necessary software packages will be available on the computers available in the lecture room.

The course in intended primarily for academic, government and commercial researchers and practitioners responsible for designing or conducting Web surveys. It is intended as an introductory overview of the issues introduced by the rise of mobile Web devices and how to deal with them, and as such is intended for all levels, and for any discipline.


Familiarity with designing and conducting Web surveys.





Intermediate (some prior knowledge)


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 and staff at UK/EU registered charity organisations and recognised UK/EU research institutions.
• £220 per day for all other participants

All fees include event materials, lunch, morning and afternoon tea. They do not include travel and accommodation costs.

A full refund is available two weeks prior to the course, NO refunds are available after this date.

Website and registration


South West


Social media data, Quantitative Data Handling and Data Analysis, Mobile Web , Mobile Optimization , Web Survey Design , Measurement Error , Smartphones , Paradata , Sensor Data , GPS , Mobile Phone Apps

Related publications and presentations

Social media data
Quantitative Data Handling and Data Analysis

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