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New for Fall 2015! Half-day and full-day Advanced Software Training

RSG Logos

New! CTRL’s Research Support Group is offering extended software training sessions. For Fall 2015, we are offering full-day training in Stata and R, and half-day training in Qualtrics and NVivo. The full-day training sessions will include a light lunch.

Full descriptions for the workshops are below. If you are interested in registering to attend these, or any of our introductory or intermediate level software trainings, please register at the CTRL website:


Use of Stata for Data Management, Analysis, and Visualization
Friday, October 2nd, 10:20 am – 3:50 pm (Light lunch will be provided)
This one-day workshop offers opportunity to users, who already have some familiarity with this statistical application, to learn about a variety of advanced topics and improve their grasp on utilizing the potential of the software. Selected content will include, but is not limited to, programming with Mata, simulations, structural breaks, time series and panel data, discrete choice models, and tips and tricks in coding. Following a brief refresher on introductory aspects of Stata, the workshop will consist of about one hour allocations to discuss the topics listed above. Emphasis will be given to the coding component of working with the program and not so much to the underlying theoretical econometric principles. Register here.

Use of Qualtrics and SPSS for Survey Research and Data Analysis
Thursday, October 8th, 1:10 pm -5:15 pm
Qualtrics is a professional-level online survey software available to all AU faculty, staff, and students, and is frequently used by faculty in both research and teaching contexts. Attendees will learn the basics of online survey creation, as well as advanced methods for organizing and distributing surveys. After working on survey creation, we will explore the data analysis functions internal to Qualtrics, and show how to export survey results to SPSS and perform more sophisticated multivariate data analyses and visualization. Register here.

Use of NVivo for Qualitative Research
Thursday, October 15th, 1:10 pm – 5:15 pm
NVivo is a software tool for undertaking qualitative research that is available to all members of the AU community. We can install it on personal computers and it is also available through the Virtual Computer Lab. We plan on showing some of the basic features of NVivo in importing materials and analysis of them, but want this training to be a working session where participants bring their own qualitative data (text, audio, or video) and actually work on a project. Because there are so many different types of qualitative approaches, we want those attending to come with their own methods in mind and data particular to exploring a relevant research topic. We invite those who are thinking of attending to come by the CTRL Research Lab and get the software installed on their computer prior to the session. We can also advise on proper formatting of documents so they are easy to import into NVivo. Register here.

Use of R for Data Management, Analysis, and Visualization
Friday, November 13th, 10:20 am – 3:50 pm (Light lunch will be provided)
This is a half-day course that guides participants through the fundamentals of using R software for a typical data analysis process. Participants will learn the basics of reading data, descriptive statistics, data visualization, data analysis, and presentation of analytical results. In addition to the fundamentals, faculty may opt to learn some advanced use R techniques, such as time series, panel data, survival regression analysis, as well as utilization of R for text mining, parallel computing, visualization and analysis. Register here.


Mobile Tool Review: GIS Cloud Mobile Data Collection

iPhone with app displayed

This Mobile Tool Review was written by Nicole Condon, CTRL Trainer and Consultant.

GIS Cloud Mobile Data Collection


Free basic service (one device and public map)
$20 premium service per device per month (private maps, better vector feature, and storage limits)


Apple App Store (iOS) and Google Play (Android) or through

What does it do?

This app allows you to gather real-time, media-enriched location information in the field. GIS Cloud Mobile Data Collection app provides a low-cost and feature-rich alternative to other geographical information system (GIS) collection services and devices. It uses the cloud to send data points and attributes directly to a custom layer on a personalized map. Access, analyze, share, and publish your data in the GIS Cloud Map Editor (available in both free and paid editions) through any web browser in real time. Features include custom form building for data collection through the mobile app and the ability to assign media (image and audio) attributes.

Which class can you use it in?

Courses that include collecting GIS or survey data in the field would find this app very useful.  It allows instant visualization and organizes data collection from multiple users, which makes collaborating on class projects very simple and fast. This is also a fantastic tool for qualitative and quantitative research data collection.


  • Ease of use
  • Flexibility of data collection
  • Much cheaper than similar alternatives (like ArcGIS mobile collection)
  • Offline data capture allows information to be sent later
  • Instant review of maps with point data and attributes for each collection on your mobile device, including images and recorded audio
  • Images and audio attachments broaden the research potential for this tool, as a researcher can collect photographic evidence and interviews in one place
  • Data is automatically arranged into a table, which can be easily saved and imported into both ArcGIS and Google Earth


  • As a relatively new app, the tool might face the growing pains associated with Beta testing
  • Utilizing all of the app’s capabilities is dependent upon each individual’s phone/tablet capabilities and data plans
  • Currently, the mobile app only allows users to create point shapes in the field. The ability to create lines and polygons should be available in 2014
  • Limited editing and spatial analysis tools.  However, importing data into another program like ArcGIS, Google Earth, or Python will solve this problem
  • Researchers that need to create private maps and larger storage need to pay a monthly fee

Overall Grade

B+ for potential use.  The next year of development for this app will be critical in determining just how effective of a tool this can be.

Additional Information

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Mobile Tool Review: Poll Everywhere

This Mobile Tool Review was written by Paul Prokop, Online Learning Trainer and Curriculum Designer, and James R. Lee, Associate Director for Technical Support and Training.

Poll Everywhere


Free for 40 (or less) participants and education pricing plans available for larger groups


Available on Apple’s iTunes App Store, Google Play, and on any Internet browser through Participants can respond through text message, Twitter, an Internet browser, or the app.

What does it do?

Poll Everywhere allows anyone to gather instant feedback through multiple-choice and open-ended prompts.

This app is a useful product. Faculty should, however, think about using in sensible ways and not simply because it is a flashy technology. It works well for faculty that teach larger classes or desire anonymous responses.  It can illustrate different attitudes towards key issues, get reactions to assignments, or demonstrate an understanding of basic course concepts. On the other hand, Poll Everywhere may not be worth the effort to those teaching a small seminar class that doesn’t require anonymous responses. Rather than waste the time and energy needed to set up a poll, isn’t it  easier and “greener” to ask students to raise their hands?

Which class can you use it in?

Any class that would like to visualize instant feedback, anonymous responses, or a back-channel discussion.


  • The best feature is the ease and look/feel of the app.
  • Faculty can use Poll Everywhere to ask many types of questions. For example, an instructor could ask students to offer their interpretations of class material or quickly poll the room to gauge understanding of course content.
  • Faculty can also create questions on the fly and provide a more personalized educational experience.


  • Students must have charged and functioning mobile devices (smartphone, laptop, or standard text-enabled phones all work). Also, students may not wish to participate in the activities or discussion questions. This tool should be used for inclusion not for exclusion.
  • Additionally, students may face SMS charges through their cell phone carrier. However, they can use free tools such as Twitter or  Poll Everywhere’s website interface.
  • Faculty may need a subscription for large classrooms.
  • Faculty should take time to craft well-designed and thoughtful questions ahead of time through the web-based site.
  • Piazza has a polling feature that works well and does not require cell phones.

Overall Grade

B+ for students, B for faculty

More Information


Data Visualize Your Life With

I admit, this is probably not 100% related your research, but this is totally related to another great data visualization tool that is available on the web, especially if you are a social media junkie like me.  That is my self portrait on the left there.

Not really, of course.  But if you are regular on Twitter or Facebook (and these days, who isn’t?), there is a neat website that will allow you to take the information that you have on those social media sites and turn it into a wonderful piece of data visualization.  Two great things are associated with this: the website offers free service and you don’t have to hunt for data, because you already have it.

The website is called This is an online community for people who love data visualizaiton (like yourself) and offers great tips on how to make yours better, links to other blogs and resources on the web related to data vis, and also gives you the chance to show off your original graphics.  Just a heads up, this website isn’t totally for novice data visualizers.  Many of the showcase graphs were created by professionals, especially those who know how to code.  It’s a good idea to look through the gallery anyway to get a sense of how data visualization can be used, maybe even for your own research project.

But this post isn’t meant to discourage you!  As I mentioned before, you already have data that can use to create a cool graphic. also has a “Create” section where you can make graphics from templates provided by the website.   You can sign up for free with your Facebook or Twitter accounts.

After signing up with my Facebook account, I chose one of the Facebook graphic templates and created a graphic that expressed the data on my friends, photos, and other info.  For my example, I chose the Facebook Monster. I could tell how many of my friends are male, how many are female, and how many times, on average, I have friends in my photos with me.  (The answer is 3.4.) Below is a visual example of the number of friends I have on each continent. I wonder who that lone Australian is.

If you have a Facebook page that showcases a business or an organization you have, has great templates to express the data of those pages as well.  Below is an example from the website that shows the demographics of people who visit a Facebook page. has similar graphic templates for Twitter.  An interesting one is a graphic that analyzes hashtags.  When you use for Facebook or Twitter, make sure that your account settings will allow to access the information or else you won’t be able to see all analytic parts of the graphic. This website is especially interesting if you want to make a fun, easy, and quick showcase of your personal data.

If you decide to try it out, let us know what you think!

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Three Easy Tricks You Probably Didn’t Know About Pie Charts in Excel

You’ve probably used Excel a lot, especially when cleaning up your data and making little bar and pie charts here and there when you need to.  If you need a quick pie chart, and you don’t spend any time trying to make it look nice, you’ll probably end up with something like this:

HEY WAKE UP!  Don’t let that boring pie chart put you to sleep.  Here are three simple tricks to make it look much more interesting.  It’s as easy as pie. 

(Yes. I went there.)

Tip # 1. Give it a little dimension. 
Excel has six different pie graph options for you to choose from. Four are 2-D and two are 3-D.  There is nothing wrong with a 2-dimensional pie graph, especially if you have many categories that could get lost in a 3-dimensional graph.  Use good judgement when choosing which pie chart is right for your data. If you have fewer categories that are better represented in a 3-D pie graph, go for it.

Tip # 2. Rotate your pie so that the smaller categories are seen. 

For some reason, when you make a pie chart on Excel, Excel tends to stick the smaller categories toward the back and bring the big piece to the front.  I suppose Excel’s logic is that you would want to see the larger value up front.  But what if the smaller values are what you’re really trying to show?

This can be fixed.  Right-click the pie chart and choose “Format Data Series.”  Under “Series Options” in the “Angle of the First Slice” section, slide the rotation notch to the right (somewhere between 90 and 100 should be fine, but you can play around with this). Viola.  Your small value slices have gotten upgraded to front and center.

Tip # 3. Make one piece of the pie explode

Who doesn’t want to see a slice of pie explode?  Not only is this great clown comedy, it’s a good way make one category or value of your pie stand out from the rest.  Earlier when you chose the type of pie graph you wanted, you could choose one that already has all the slices exploded.  Here is how you can make just one slice explode:

When you click on the pie graph, you’ll see that little “handles” appear on the edges. When you click on just one slice of the pie, the same thing happens.  Drag that piece of the pie out…and bam. Pie slice explosion.

Next time you need to make a pie graph on Excel, consider some ways to  make it look more interesting.  Your audience will appreciate it.

By the way, that first pie graph shown above (the gray, bland one) is intended for giggles, but believe it or not, that is an actual color scheme by Excel.  Please, please, please, stay away from that option.  While you’re at it, stay away from single-color schemes, where pieces of the pie are different shades of green or orange, for example.  To make each of your pieces stand out, use different colors.  And stick with solid colors.  Patterns can get distracting.

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Four (Free) Online GIS Programs

Need a GIS program but don’t have access to ArcGIS for Desktop? Check out four GIS programs available online. You can be using mapping software within minutes!

Why GIS? A GIS (geographic information system) allows you to study relationships between different layers and detect causal relationships between different variables. Using a GIS, you can create dynamic maps that show change over time, and you can create predictive models. GIS has been used in many industries for decision-making and policy formulation. It has been prominent in the environmental and agricultural sector (how does climate change affect crops?), but has recently flourished in the business sector (i.e.: where to open a new bakery?) and is rapidly expanding into new sectors such as conflict management (i.e.: crisis mapping).

Google Earth

Google Earth maps the Earth by using superimposed images obtained from satellite imagery and aerial photography. You can explore layers created by other Google Earth users or create your own layers to display data and other information on the Google Earth maps. Using the place mark feature, you can pinpoint a location on the map and edit information about a specific location, even add an image or video to your place mark “bubble”.  Likewise, you can create polygon shapes, paths, and image overlays to represent areas on the map.  You can save your work as a .jpeg image or as a .kml or .kmz file (special file formats by Google Earth).  Use the history tool to go explore past satellite imagery available for a location, or create a tour of all your place marks while recording your voice.

Open Street Map

OSM creates and provides free geographic data and mapping to anyone around the globe. It’s the Wiki of maps. OSM was created to allow people around the world to share and create maps in creative, productive, or unexpected ways OSM includes more detailed maps than other sites, however, it does not offer the ability to analyze data. For example, you can find an address in a small town of Thailand and you can edit the map to add your favorite restaurant, but you cannot add a layer that shows robberies in that city (even if you have that layer saved somewhere).


GeoCommons is the public community of GeoIQ users who are building an open repository of data and maps for the world. The GeoIQ platform includes a large number of features that empower you to easily access, visualize and analyze your data for free.


Crowdmap is a tool that allows you to crowdsource information and see it on a map and timeline. It does not require software installation and allows you to visualize information on a map in a quick and easy way. Crowdmap works in three simple steps: 1) Collect information from cell phones, news and the web; 2) aggregate the information collected into a single platform; 3) visualize the information on a map and timeline. For example, Crowdmap is often used to monitor elections or for crisis mapping.

Which one do you prefer?

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Fast Data Visualization with Wolfram Alpha Pro

A while back, we introduced a really neat website called Wolfram Alpha, an answer engine developed by Wolfram Research. It’s an online service that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from structured data. Wolfram Alpha was amazing before, but recently it just got better: now you can input numeric or tabular data right into the browser and Wolfram Alpha will instantly analyze it. It will handle not only pure numbers, but also dates, places, strings, and more.

This feature is part of Wolfram Alpha Pro. It’s Wolfram with many more options for data analysis and computational knowledge. The only thing is, you have to pay a monthly price to use this service. Of course this is not what anyone on a budget wants to hear, but the good news is that there is a special student rate available ($2.99/month).

So what can Wolfram Alpha Pro do? Here is an example given by the website that analyzes the relationship between GDP and homicide for African countries:

Scatter plot:

Histograms: Below is an example of a bivariate histogram (shows both variables) but Wolfram will also give you histograms on each variable.

Heat map of GDP:

Wolfram doesn’t stop there. Browse the examples  that the website gives to explore how you can get results from uploaded datasets. This website has been famously known for answering computational questions on the fly. This new feature provided by the Pro version will help bring about a new dimension to your data, especially if you want some quick data visualization.

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Fall in love with SPSS again: Mapping in SPSS 20

SPSS manages to keep their throne as the most widely-used statistical analysis software in social science. They have outdone themselves, yet again, with SPSS 20.

The Maps feature is at the forefront of the collection of new updates in this recent release. Now, you can incorporate geography into your quantitative research, in order to visualize geographical observations or trends.

This feature is contained in Graph > Graphboard Template Chooser. There are three types of map templates:

  1. Choropleth Maps, where you can use color gradation to reflect the value of statistic on a variable (mean, median, and sum).
  2. Mini Charts, displaying a chart for certain regions; each labeled with the respective location.
  3. Overlay Maps, combining two map files into one visualization; one as reference, another for data display.

You can work with the following data:

  1. Latitude and Longitude, in order to generate a reference map with geographical coordinates.
  2. Existing map files: ESRI shapefiles easily converted with the Map Conversion Utility
  3. Pre-installed maps in SMZ format, including the U.S. map with states and cities indicated

For additional map files: “Many of the templates in this product are based on publicly available data obtained from GeoCommons ( and the U.S. Census Bureau ( Another source for U.S. federal, state, and local geospatial data is the U.S. Geological Survey (”

There are various ways to customize your map to display the data as you desire, including color schemes (stylesheet) as well as Pie on a Map.

Pie on a Map

Reference Map with Latitude and Longitude

SPSS 20 is now available on all the computers in Hurst 202 and 203.


IBM. SPSS. Program documentation. Converting and Distributing Map Shapefiles. Vers. 20. IBM, 2011. Web. 14 Feb. 2012. <;.

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PSPP: SPSS’s Alter Ego

You’re considering getting your own copy of SPSS on your personal computer and you begin to browse for the program online (although if you have an AU-owned computer, you can just get it installed from us).  You want more than the free trial version that the makers of SPSS offers but you don’t want to pay the price. What to do? There is an option (a FREE option, if we may add) out there that may help: PSPP.

What is PSPP?

PSPP is a free software application for statistical analysis. It is intended to be a free replacement of the proprietary program SPSS. When you open PSPP, you’ll find that the interface looks very similar to SPSS with a few exceptions. All functionality that PSPP currently supports is in the core package.

PSPP has a data view tab (spreadsheet), a variable view tab (to create variables and define their characteristics) and has an easy to use point-and-click interface.

From the PSPP website: PSPP can perform descriptive statistics, T-tests, linear regression and non-parametric tests. Its backend is designed to perform its analyses as fast as possible, regardless of the size of the input data. You can use PSPP with its graphical interface or the more traditional syntax commands.

Again, PSPP is very similar to SPSS.  Even the output window is comparable to SPSS.

A brief list of some of the features of PSPP follows:

  • Supports over 1 billion cases.
  • Supports over 1 billion variables.
  • Syntax and data files are compatible with SPSS.
  • Choice of terminal or graphical user interface.
  • Choice of text, postscript or html output formats.
  • Inter-operates with Gnumeric,  and other free software.
  • Easy data import from spreadsheets, text files and database sources.
  • Fast statistical procedures, even on very large data sets.
  • No license fees.
  • No expiration period.
  • No unethical “end user license agreements”.
  • Fully indexed user manual.
  • Free Software; licensed under GPLv3 or later.
  • Cross platform; Runs on many different computers and many different operating systems.

Visit PSPP’s website to learn more about the software and information on how install it.  Don’t forget to look closely at the different installation instructions for PCs and Macs.

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See how “Information is Beautiful”

Recently this blog has focused a lot on how you can use various data visualization tools for your research projects. We’re still dedicated to promoting how data visualization can enhance your research.  While data can look good in words or numbers, try experimenting with ways you can make your data exciting and really catch the attention of your reader or audience.

Not convinced? If you have about 20 minutes to spare, check out this TED talk that came out in July 2010: David McCandless is an independent data journalist and information designer who has written for publications like The Guardian and Wired.  In this presentation, McCandless shows how complex datasets can turn into stunning visualizations that can help you and your audience see the world.  While working with data, he offers his own perspective on the popular phrase “data is the new oil”. To McCandless, “data is the new soil” as it is a “fertile medium” where data visualization can literally “bloom” like flowers if you work it the right way.

The speaker also has a blog called “Information is Beautiful“. This blog is definitely worth checking out if you want to see how data visualization can be used to display various types of information in very unique, eye-catching ways. He uses data to visualize politics, the economy, social media, and trends in pop culture.

You’ll also learn that he absolutely hates pie charts. Find out why!