Tip Sheet for Flashlight Online Authors

These hints respond to the problems that most often frustrate users (especially new users) of Flashlight Online. Print these pages and keep them beside your computer the first few times you use Flashlight Online.  And please send problems we’ve missed, or suggestions for clarifying these answers, to Ehrmann@tltgroup.org    --- Thanks!!


First Steps in Exploration

  1. The Flashlight Online system is available at http://flashlightonline.wsu.edu.  Click the button near the bottom of that page to go to the login page. You will need a username and password to log-in. {Flashlight Online runs on CTLSilhouette software created and maintained by WashingtonStateUniversity.)
  2. Many of the features of Flashlight Online (e.g., the item bank of almost 500 validated questions) are invisible until you start creating a survey by using the “new survey” button. 
  3. If you are a new user exploring the system and looking for studies done by others, your options are limited. Users can only see surveys done by others in their groups (with exception described below) and ordinary can’t see data collected by others; this is part of the privacy protection that is part of Flashlight Online.
  4. Help and Handbook: An extensive set of help screens are available if you click the help button on the top row of icons near the right.  That’s also where you can find an e-mail form to send questions, ideas, and complaints to the administrators of the Flashlight Online system. The Flashlight Evaluation Handbook is also available when you’re creating a survey; its icon is in that same row, toward the left hand side of the screen.

Creating a Survey

  1. "New survey" creates a blank questionnaire (just as "new.." creates a blank word processing document or a blank spreadsheet).  To add questions (also known as "items"), choose "Add items" from the second row of icons at the top or "template" from the top row of icons in order to put questions into your survey.

q       "Add items" lets you search almost 500 validated items (the “Current Student Inventory”) or create your own (custom questions  -- see below)

q       "Template" lets you start a survey by using someone else's published survey as a draft (or you can use that survey 'as is'). Choose “new Survey,” fill in the initial screen with the survey’s name etc., click OK so you see the blank survey itself, and then immediately click the template button (top row of icons) to see current templates.

  1. DANGER: don’t confuse "New Survey" with "Start survey." The two buttons sound alike but have very different functions.  "Start survey" has two functions: a) it assigns your completed survey a URL so that respondents can start answering it online, and b) it reformats your survey to a 'read only' format - it can no longer be altered. The two go together - if items could be altered after people began responding, interpreting data would become impossible. 


q       “What if I click “Start survey” and then decide I want to alter the survey?”  Some changes can be handled with html editing (adding explanations, deleting questions, even changing the wording of questions. But, if you want Flashlight Online to record responses, you cannot add questions after clicking “Start Survey.” So click “copy survey” instead. The copy can be altered so you leave the ‘start’ed survey behind and add your items to the new survey.

  1. The crucial "submit" and “OK” buttons: As you write a survey, there are really two versions of it – the one that matters (on the CTLSilhouette computer at WashingtonStateUniversity) and the one you can alter (the version on your own machine.)  The things you type on your machine do not become part of the real survey on Silhouette until you click the "submit" or “OK” button at the very bottom of the page you’ve been working on.  It’s easy to miss this button; it is often out of sight unless you scroll to the bottom of the page. Clicking it saves only what you’ve done on that particular page.  If you go to a new page without first clicking the ‘OK’ or ‘ submit’ button, you will lose the work you've done on that page!
  2. Print-friendly: Want to see what the survey will look like to a respondent, or print it out so you can distribute it on paper? Click the “print friendly” button. But remember what we said in hint #4: the version of the survey that matters is on the server. So when you click “print friendly” Silhouette sends to your screen a print-friendly version of your survey as of the last time you clicked “OK” (i.e., ‘Save’).
  3. Custom questions: most authors will want to use their own language or ideas to craft some (perhaps all) items. That's the function of 'custom questions.' Novices experience two problems in using these questions: the "10-40 puzzle" and the "checkbox unchecked mistake."

q       The 10-40 puzzle:  Flashlight Online creates custom questions in blocks of 10 (you can choose “10,” “20,” “30” or “40”).  What if you only need one such question? Or thirteen? No problem.  Unless you actually put words into the blank question and check the box beside it, it won't appear in your survey. So, for example, if you only need two custom questions, pick "10,” just fill in two of them, and click the box beside each one.

q       The checkbox unchecked mistake:  To repeat: when adding a question to your survey, you must click the box to the left of the item so that it has an X in it. The most common (and frustrating error) that novices make when creating a custom question is to write it, click "Submit" at the bottom of the page, and wonder why their questions have disappeared.  If this has just happened to you, don't panic - you might be able to recover by clicking on the 'back' (left) arrow on your browser.