The Effect of Survey Mode on High School Risk Behavior Data: a Comparison between Web and Paper-based Surveys


  • Shobana Raghupathy Sociometrics Corporation
  • Stephen Hahn-Smith Research & Evaluation Manager for Behavioral Health Services Contra Costa Behavioral Health Division, CA


online, alcohol, youth risk behavior, school health, web-based survey, methods.


There has been increasing interest in using of web-based surveys—rather than paper based surveys--for collecting data on alcohol and other drug use in middle and high schools in the US. However, prior research has indicated that respondent confidentiality is an underlying concern with online data collection especially when computer-assisted surveys are administered in group settings such as computer labs and classrooms. Using a sample of 341 high school students, we conducted a study comparing alcohol risk behavior prevalence rates from the web-based surveys with paper-form version of the same survey.  The online surveys used in the study implemented several programming safeguards to enhance privacy. The goal of our study was to see if the risk-behavior items—when transitioned to an online format with these additional safeguards—would provide prevalence estimates that are comparable to its paper form version. Results showed that overall alcohol prevalence rates did not vary significantly between the two conditions. However, there was a significant interaction between gender and survey mode. Females reported lower mean risk indicator rates compared to males, possibly indicating stronger privacy concerns among the former group. The results suggest that online survey administration may require targeted efforts to help alleviate confidentiality concerns among adolescent girls.

Author Biographies

Shobana Raghupathy, Sociometrics Corporation

Dr. Raghupathy is Senior Research Associate at Sociometrics Corporation. Since 1997, when she secured her Ph.D degree in Sociology from Brown University, Dr. Raghupathy has played a leading role in transferring prevention research into practice, primarily in the area of adolescent health. Her work includes development of science-based resources for youth-based drug prevention; multimedia tools for evaluation and implementation; practitioner assistance and training on program replication and adaptation. Dr. Raghupathy has secured numerous grants from the National Institute of Health for creating school-based health education tools for youth. These included an online data collection system for school districts; a drug prevention program for Native American elementary school children; and currently, a suicide prevention intervention for Native American high schoolers.  Dr. Raghupathy has established a solid track record as a prevention researcher, having served as Research Advisors to several external public and private research organizations (California Healthy Kids Resource Center, California Department of Education; Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and California Department of Health Services; NIDA and Center for Scientific Review). Prior to joining Sociometrics, Dr. Raghupathy worked in international organizations such as the World Bank and the UNICEF.

Stephen Hahn-Smith, Research & Evaluation Manager for Behavioral Health Services Contra Costa Behavioral Health Division, CA

Stephen Hahn-Smith, Ph.D. is a Research and Evaluation Manager at the Mental Health Division, Contra Costa County. This role involves oversight of all research activity for the division of mental health, including the collection of performance measures for consumers in the system, monetary and revenue analysis, productivity reporting, and consumer satisfaction surveys.  Recently, he has been part of the planning and evaluation team for the Mental Health Services Act programs, a new initiative for innovative programs for consumers of the public mental health system.  He has also been involved in several large scale cross-site studies, including the CAASP Infrastructure grant in New Mexico; the statewide system of care evaluation while at the University of California, San Francisco; and several prevention related cross-site studies while at EMT Associates.  Currently, he is the Coordinator of Research and Evaluation in Contra Costa County for the public mental health plan.  Dr. Hahn-Smith received his Ph.D from the University of New Mexico in 1996; Master’s in Education from Harvard University, and Bachelor of Arts from University of Colorado, Boulder.




How to Cite

Raghupathy, S., & Hahn-Smith, S. (2013). The Effect of Survey Mode on High School Risk Behavior Data: a Comparison between Web and Paper-based Surveys. Current Issues in Education, 16(2). Retrieved from