Online research methods and tools

The BMS lab has supported researchers in digitizing their research for years. Taking your study to the digital realm can be challenging, but it offers new possibilities as well. Over the years the BMS lab has build both experience and an inventory of tools that aid in conducting studies digitally. This page serves two main purposes. First, it serves to provide inspiration for researchers during these times wherein physical studies are often difficult or impossible. Second, it serves to demonstrate how studies can be translated to the digital realm successfully using only small modifications and the expertise of the BMS lab. The page is divided into a section on methods to digitize physical studies and a section on methods that are designed for digital or online use.

Digitized studies

Some research methods can be taken into the digital realm with little or no compromise. Others, require an adjustment in scope or expectations. This section describes some of the methods and resources available at the BMS lab to take some common methods online. Furthermore, over time the experience of both the BMS lab and researchers will grow. This section will therefore be supplemented with cases from practise and some of the researcher’s experiences.

Facial expression analysis: The inclusion of webcams on most laptops and their widespread availability as standalone products have opened up new possibilities. One of which is the inclusion of facial expression analysis at a distance. The core constraint is that camera has to be of sufficient quality. The BMS lab can provide both the webcams and software needed to analyze the seven basic emotions in participant’s facial expression. By asking participants to record their session in the experiment, one can take these, and other observational studies, online.

Camera used for facial expression analysis
Camera used for facial expression analysis. This is now possible with a simple webcam as well.

Interviews: and group interactions Studies that involve around interviews or verbal interactions can easily be digitized and taken online. The University of Twente offers software, such as Google Meets (for students) and Microsoft Teams (for employees and students) that can be used to conduct interviews at a distance. Interaction through video conferencing requires some adjustments. This has two main causes, mainly the varying amounts of delay and the lower amount of body language visible to the participants and researchers. Overall, it offers a good replacement of physical interviews. Moreover, the BMS lab offers both its own Sociometry app and the Amberscript transcription service to researchers for transcription and analysis of the interviews.

Observational and longitudinal studies: Some studies require careful or prolonged observation of the participants. Examples of this include cohort and health effect studies. These studies do not always require physical observation. Instead researchers could make use of the BMS lab’s own TIIM app. This app allows researchers to conduct studies with multiple measurement or observation points, experimental conditions, interventions and all possible combinations of those three. Furthermore, each of the three building blocks can be tied to conditions and timing. A researcher could, for example, observe the effects of fitness tracker on a participant’s health by tying interventions to certain weeks of the study and by asking the participant at the end of each day how much they moved that day.

A short video about the TIIM app.

Usability studies: Research that focuses on both the usability of software as physical entities can be executed at a distance. The object itself and the accompanying instructions can of course be send to a participant. Questionnaires can be used to gather the most basic data and impressions of the participant. Furthermore, the wide availability of webcams (also available at the lab) offers easy opportunities for observation as well. You can read more about digital usability studies in the section below.

A short video about usability testing.

Digital studies

Research methods specifically designed for the digital environment or for deployment over the internet have been a part of the BMS lab’s expertise for several years. These studies range from usability and machine interaction studies to content analysis and network analysis. This collection of methods offers a rich toolkit of methodologies that can serve as both a replacement of physical studies or a (temporary) supplement.

Online usability: The advent and widespread adoption of the internet has spawned a wide range of industries and new forms of business. One of which is the design of the platforms that people use to surf the internet. Online usability testing is one such business and a research method with a rich history as well. It can be used to effectively test the ease of use, findability or appeal of a design or information structure. Tools such as mouse tracking through Hotjar, adaptive questionnaires and A/B testing form a solid basis in these types of studies. The BMS lab has a wide variety of software tools available for this purpose and can help setup your usability study.

Questionnaires and online experiments: Many studies do not actually need physical proximity to be conducted effectively and reliably. The software toolkit available at the BMS lab and University of Twente offers a wide range of tools for that purpose. They allow for experimental conditions, various forms of randomization, presenting stimuli and measuring outcomes. Furthermore, most software packages offer options for the easy exportation of the study’s data to the analysis package of choice. Creative application of these tools allow many studies to transition to the digital realm or for studies that are specifically created for the digital realm. Qualtrics is the main tool used for these types of studies. Some of its possibilities include:

  • SUS questionnaires on overall site usability
  • NPS score questionnaires
  • Extensive survey based experiments
  • Scoring/testing
  • Stimulus evaluation

Want to learn more?

Some researchers and students conducting research at the University of Twente may want to use some of these tools. Others might need help in the conversion or reimagining of their studies into the digital realm and the current circumstances. The BMS lab can support those that need it with its broad expertise and wide range of tools. Contact the lab or sign up a study to get in touch with the lab.