ArsDigita Archives

Survey (Simple)

part of the ArsDigita Community System by Philip Greenspun

The Big Idea

We want to be able to survey users. We want a non-technical person to be able to design surveys from HTML forms. We want someone who is not a site-admin to be able to review answers (via the module administration directory).

Division of Labor

A site-wide administrator gets to decide which surveys are enabled or not enabled. A module admin gets to build surveys (which started off disabled by default) and edit them. The module admin also gets to review answers (as above). Module admins are designated by adding them to the "Simple Survey System Staff" administration group.

Survey Question Possibilities

Each survey question specifies an abstract data type for responses:
  • boolean
  • number
  • integer
  • shorttext (less than 4000 characters)
  • text
  • choice
Each survey also specifies a presentation type:
  • textbox
  • textarea (size can be specified in presentation_options)
  • select (from a fixed set of options in survsimp_question_choices)
  • radio (from a fixed set of options in survsimp_question_choices)
  • checkbox (from a fixed set of options in survsimp_question_choices)

The data model

We use the following tables:
  • survsimp_questions -- questions for each survey
  • survsimp_surveys -- specs for one survey form (except the questions)
  • survsimp_responses -- user responses to surveys
  • survsimp_question_responses -- user responses to individual questions within a survey
The philosophy about storing the users responses is to use one single Oracle table to store all responses, i.e., we do not create a new table when we create a new survey. In order to make it possible to store all kinds of data in one table, we give the survsimp_question_responses table five columns.

	-- if the user picked a canned response
	choice_id		references survsimp_question_choices,
	boolean_answer		char(1) check(boolean_answer in ('t','f')),
	clob_answer		clob,
	number_answer		number,
	varchar_answer		varchar(4000),
Only one of the columns will be not-null.

Why the CLOB in addition to the varchar? The CLOB is necessary when people are using this system for proposal solicitation (people might type more than 4000 characters).

User Interface

The user interface for creating a survey is as follows:
  1. User creates a survey, giving it a name and a description.
  2. User adds questions one by one, and is given the opportunity to reorder questions.
  3. To add a question, user first types in the question and selects its presentation type (radio buttons, checkbox, text field, etc.).
  4. Then the user is given the opportunity to specify further attributes for the question depending upon the presentation type that was chosen. For instance, any "choice" presentation (radio buttons, checkboxes, and select lists) require a list of choices. A text field requires the user to specify an abstract data type and the size of the input field.


This module requires no section in /parameters/ad.ini !

The Future

This entire system should be superseded by a more glorious one that Buddy Dennis of UCLA (his PhD apparently isn't helping him get this ACS module finished) has developed. That's why we call this the "simple" survey module.

If Buddy never gets his act together, we should add a feature to this system whereby a multiple-choice question can solicit a typed-in "Other" answer as well.