SURV635: Usability Testing for Survey Research

Data Generating Process

Apply through UMD

Instructor: Emily Geisen, Jennifer Romano-Bergstrom

Usability testing in survey research allows in-depth evaluation of how respondents and interviewers interact with questionnaires, particularly web and mobile surveys. A respondent may understand the survey question and response options, but may be unable to select their answer accurately on the small screen of a smartphone. Although there is a growing body of literature on best practices for web surveys and mobile devices, not all design guidelines work equally well for all surveys and all survey populations. In addition, it is clear that the capabilities of computerized surveys are constantly emerging. Examples are the use of images, videos, maps and GPS, interactive features, and mobile devices. As a result, it is critical for researchers to have the necessary tools to evaluate, test, and modify surveys to incorporate user-centered design in an iterative method as part of the survey pretesting process.

Course objectives: 

By the end of the course, students will…

  • understand what usability and usability testing is and how to apply it to survey research
  • learn what to test: conceptual testing, paper prototypes, wireframes
  • learn when to test, where to test (lab vs. field vs remote) and who to test with (type and # of participants)
  • be able to plan for usability testing (developing protocol guide, determining test metrics, hardware/software considerations)
  • learn to moderate sessions using think-aloud and verbal probing
  • understand how to collect, record, and analyze usability data

Grading will be based on:

  • Participant in discussion during the weekly online meetings (10% of grade)
  • Weekly online exercises reviewing specific aspects of the material covered (60% of grade)
  • A final open-book online exam (30% of grade)

Students are expected to be familiar with questionnaire design. Experience with cognitive testing is a plus, but not a requirement.


Geisen, E., & Romano Bergstrom, J. (2017). Usability Testing for Survey Research. Waltham: Morgan Kaufmann. 

Weekly online meetings & assignments:

  • Week 1: Introduction (Assignment 1)
  • Week 2: Moderating Techniques (Assignment 2)
  • Week 3: Test Materials, Metrics, Equipment, Location (Assignment 3)
  • Week 4: What to test / Analyzing Results 
  • Final exam

Course Dates


Spring Semester (January – May)


Spring Semester (January – May)