Considerations for Using ASA24™

Since the release of a Beta version in 2009, ASA24 has been used by hundreds of researchers conducting studies in multiple settings. Through our support of researchers, NCI has gained insights into best practices for implementation, as well as common issues encountered by study participants.

A key factor in successfully using ASA24 is how well study staff who have direct contact with participants know the tool themselves. The more facile study staff are with ASA24, the more helpful they can be to participants. We recommend that study staff spend a significant amount of time completing multiple ASA24 recalls (this can be done using the Demonstration versionExternal Web Site Policy) and in the process, select many different foods, drinks and supplements (if applicable) and use all available actions prior to fielding a study.

Although not essential, if your study design includes in-person contact with participants prior to their completion of ASA24, it can be helpful to orient them to the software through completion of a practice recall using the demonstration version in an environment where study staff are available to answer questions.

Common issues encountered by study participants

(Note that these issues are also summarized in a Troubleshooting Guide for Study Staff, available from the Resources for Study Staff and Participants section of this Web site.)

  1. Issues getting started
    • Typing in usernames and passwords: Strong passwords can be difficult for participants to remember and to type accurately. They may also misplace or lose usernames and passwords provided to them. Strong but meaningful and easier to remember passwords can be specified by researchers when setting up user accounts on the Researcher Web site. See the Researcher Instructions (2011-12 [PDF]External Web Site Policy, 2014 [PDF]External Web Site Policy), for more information. Researchers can encourage participants to copy and paste usernames and passwords from an e-mail with instructions for completing ASA24.
    • Downloading Silverlight: The download process can pose a challenge to those participants who are less familiar with computers. Written instructions for how to download Silverlight on specific browsers (see Resources for Study Staff and Participants) can be provided to participants.
    • Attempting to complete ASA24 on a smart phone or tablet: ASA24 currently will not run on a smart phone, iPad or other tablet. We hope to provide this feature in the future.
    • Attempting to complete ASA24 on an older Mac computer: ASA24 will not run on Mac computers that are 6 or more years old.
  2. Issues using the software after a successful login
    • "Freezing": Participants may report that an ASA24 screen is "frozen." Usually, this is a result of the respondent not selecting an action that will lead to the next step or task to be completed. This issue most commonly happens at the following transition points:
      • The participant has completed adding foods for a meal and does not know that they need to select "Add a meal or snack" to continue adding more foods or "Done entering all meals and snack" if they have completed recording all foods and beverages consumed. Similarly, in the Supplement module, participants need to select "No supplements to report" or "Done entering supplements" to move on.
    • Opening food groups and subgroups: Participants can either search or browse to find foods they want to report. Browsing food groups and subgroups requires a single click. Some respondents double click instead which results in food groups quickly opening and closing.
    • Authentication error message: This appears if the participant took a break of 30 or more minutes from completing ASA24. The participant is asked to log back in with original username and password.
    • Unable to start the tool: If participants log in on the wrong day (for scheduled studies only) or try to log back in to an existing recall after the reporting period (24 or 36 hours, depending on option selected by the researcher) has lapsed, or if they try to log back in for studies for which they are required to complete the tool in one sitting, a message will be displayed. A message will also be displayed when participants of unscheduled studies exceed the number of recalls allowed, as defined by the researcher.
    • Turning the penguin off and on: Some participants appreciate the instructions provided by the animated penguin, whereas others wish to progress through ASA24 without the penguin's guidance. In all versions, the penguin can be turned off completely or the audio only can be turned off. In ASA24-2014, ASA24-Kids-2014, and ASA24-Canada-2014, there is a penguin tool bar that allows access to penguin controls at any time and that allows for penguin instructions to be repeated as desired. In ASA24-2011 and ASA24-Kids-2012, the penguin control options (in the upper right-hand corner of the screen) are not available until after completion of the initial instructions. For all versions, when participants log in to complete ASA24 within 30 days of a prior visit to the site using the same user name, the option to turn the penguin on or off will be displayed immediately. There is also an option for researchers to turn off the penguin when using ASA24 to conduct interviewer-administered recalls or to enter food records -- contact the ASA24 Help Desk for details.
    • General problems: Some respondents quickly proceed through the tool while others struggle. Those who struggle the most tend to be less computer savvy, older, and of lower literacy. For some populations, researchers may wish to consider having an interviewer administer the recall (in this case, the penguin can be turned off -- see above).
  3. Issues after the completion of a recall
    • ASA24 includes many prompts to help respondents recall everything they ate and drank the previous day, including a forgotten foods checklist and a final review. However, sometimes participants remember a food or drink they consumed after the recall has already been completed. Once the participant indicates that he or she is done with the recall, it is closed and the participant cannot log back in to modify the data. The recall will also close out once the reporting period (selected by the researcher) lapses. If the forgotten food or drink is reported to the study staff, the item can be entered in a separate recall and the nutrient and food group values added to the original output from the participant's recall outside of the ASA24 system. Note, in this situation, the "foodnum" and "codenum" variables will need to be adjusted in the file(s).

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