Aug 202013

In this installment we’ll look at Utah State University’s publication of student engagement results.  Utah State is one of many collegiate institutions that have participated in NSSE’s national survey of student engagement (see and

Special thanks to Allan Walker for making the underlying data available to me.

Note: I’ve published four sets of questions from the survey as interactive dashboards that you can find at the end of this blog post.

The Good

Utah State University should be lauded for making its survey results available in an interactive format.  This is a great way to foster engagement from students, faculty, administration, and other interested parties.

The Bad and The Ugly

It’s almost impossible to glean anything useful from the published results.

The “Before” Picture

Here’s a screenshot of the analysis of the first set of questions in the survey (see

Five of the ten questions in the group -- this requires lots of scrolling and makes it impossible to compare results across questions

Five of the ten questions in the group — this requires lots of scrolling and makes it impossible to compare results across questions

Note that there are a total of ten Likert scale questions in this set and they are presented in the same order that they appeared in the survey.

Here are the things I would like to know, but cannot at all glean from the visualizations:

  • Which activities where done most often and which were done least often?
  • Are there any significant differences when you compare results by gender?
  • Are there any significant differences when you compare results by ethnicity?

The “After” Picture

I’ve written extensively on the best ways to visualize Likert Scale data (see and

Here’s what happens if we apply this approach to the Utah State University NNSE data.

Divergent stacked bars showing all responses

Divergent stacked bars showing all responses

And if we apply a parameter setting to only show extremes (e.g., “very often/often” vs. “sometimes/never”) the results are even easier to sort and grok.

Divergent stacked bars combining responses

Divergent stacked bars combining responses

This approach also allows us to break the data down by gender and see if there are any questions where there are major differences (and there are major differences).

Comparing results by gender

Comparing results by gender

We can likewise distinguish major differences from Caucasian / non-Caucasian respondents when we look at the results from Question 14.

Comparing results by ethnicity

Comparing results by ethnicity

Seven-Point Likert Scale Examples

Here’s another set of results for questions where the students could provide seven possible responses.

Impossible-to-compare seven-point LIkert scale questions

Impossible-to-compare seven-point LIkert scale questions

I can’t make any sense of the data when it’s presented as a bunch of bars, but when I use divergent stacked bars it becomes very easy to compare and sort the results.

Combined values for seven-point Likert scale questions

Combined values for seven-point Likert scale questions

Recommendations to Utah State University

  1. Continue to make these results public, but make the results usable.  You can do this by…
  2. Reshaping the data to make it much easier to manage in Tableau (see
  3. Using divergent stacked bar charts to display Likert scale data.

Click HERE to see interactive dashboard.


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  17 Responses to “Mostly Monthly Makeover – Utah State University Survey of Student Engagement”

Comments (15) Pingbacks (2)
  1. Steve, This is great stuff. I heard about your site at the TCC2013. I’ve been working with some survey data and your solutions are elegant to say the least. I’ve downloaded the twbx for the above data and have successfully reverse enginerred it for the most part. I can’t quite figure out how you get the different sheets to hide and then appear based on the “Break Down Data by” parameter. I think I’ve got it working in the sheets successfully, but I’m at a loss as to how to get this working in the dashboard. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Again, thanks for all of the effort you’ve put into this.


  2. Thanks Steve. I think I’ve got it working as best as it’s going to look. It would be nice to have the sheet dissappear completely. I tried it with floating sheets inside the layout container, but they’d dissappear when I changed the parameter value. Odd. It is working with tiled sheets in the container.

  3. Erik, you need to make sure that none of the sheets have titles as Tableau hides the viz but will show the title.  The trick is to have a text box that is just the title.

  4. Hi Steve –
    Do the unpivoted and pivoted Excel tables need to be in the same workbook?
    I currently have both in the same workbook, as two separate workSHEETS, and Tableau allows me to join / blend the tables nicely.
    If I have the pivoted and unpivoted tables in separate workBOOKS, do I lose any functionality or speed?

    • Mike,

      I don’t see why there should be any problems. I deal with multiple arrangements of the data (creating different data sources) within the same workbook and Tableau is very happy.


      • Hi Steve –
        Let me clarify, just to be sure.
        Is a Tableau extract that joins 2 worksheets together (pivot, unpivot) going to be more powerful than blending 2 extracts containing that same data (one extract pivoted, one unpivoted)?

        • Mike,

          I think the only answer I can provide right now is that “it depends”. That said, you are on to something with the idea of data blending. I’m working on something now that does some intra-survey analysis where there are three data sources; the first two are essentially the same, reshaped data (many rows) and the third data source is a simple Excel file that provides a type of scaffolding to relate the two data sources. It’s not quite ready for prime time, but it is getting close.

          The biggest downside of joining a table to itself is that you get A LOT of rows and this can bog things down. If you can get what you want with a blend you will probably be better off.


  5. Judging from Erik’s comment and your reply, your “Break Down Data By” parameter switches between sheets as opposed to dynamically selecting a field for the Rows shelf. If this is so, what is the benefit? 

    If I have created a parameter with a calculated field in the Rows shelf, is there a way to 1) allow the user to choose to something like “no breakdown” (synonymous to your “all” option), and 2) have the associated header dynamically change with the parameter selection?

  6. Great tutorial and example, so thank you. I downloaded this workbook (and several others from your website), but I cannot view the cards on any of your dashboard sheets (e.g., the Pages, Filters, Marks, Columns shelf, Rows shelf, etc.). They are all presumably hidden or disabled. I went to Worksheets > Show Cards > but all the options are grayed out. Any suggestions?

  7. Hi Steve, I just wondering how to calculate the total which is shown in each question.
    And how to using the same filter for different questions.
    Any tips?


    • Eve,

      At the very end of the post you’ll find a link to the workbook which you can download.

      There are easier ways to get the total than what I have in the workbook (it’s an old workbook, although what I have certainly works). Today I would go with {Exclude [Label that is on color]: SUM([Number of Records])}, place this on rows, and make it discrete.

      As for how to make the filters apply to all the questions, right-click the down arrow on the upper right corner of the filter and indicate that you either want it to apply to certain worksheets, or all worksheets, etc. See


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