NSSE questions in Canada and the U.S.


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In my research today I compared the Canadian and American versions of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) instrument for 2010.

This is the survey that over 1 million university students across North America are invited to take in their 1st and 4th year.

The NSSE survey page calls the Canadian version the “Canadian English” version.  But the version is not just different in terms of its “Canadian English” vocabulary (such as “school/college” in the US versus “university” in Canada). 

The Canadian version is different in terms of its cultural content and rhetorical approaches.

This post provides comparative screenshots of survey content to help us ponder why these differences exist.


  1. Nationality, race and ethnicity–The 2010 US survey has fewer “racial or ethnic” identity groups named than the Canadian Survey, as well as using different terminology for categories.
  2. Disability–The US survey asks questions about disability and the Canadian survey does not.
  3. Additional Comments–The US survey has a final open-ended question asking for additional comments in a text box, while the Canadian survey does not.
  4. Confidentiality–The US survey provides more information about confidentiality.
  5. Across the Country–The US survey boasts that students “across the country” get surveyed, while the Canadian survey says thousands of students “in the US and Canada” get surveyed.

1. Nationality, race and ethnicity

US Survey: “Select only one”!


Canadian Survey: “Select all that apply”!


  • Notice the first question: it is the reverse of the US survey, asking about being a citizen rather than being foreign.
  • An ideological reason is added for collecting “Ethno-cultural information”
  • “Ethno-cultural information is quite different from “racial or ethnic identification.”

2. Disability

US Survey ONLY:


  • Why is this question not added to the “Canadian English” survey?  Do we not have language for these concepts in “Canadian English”?

3. Additional Comments

US Survey ONLY:


  • Why do US students get an “open microphone” to conclude with any additional comments?
  • What does NSSE do with the comments it receives from all those US students?  If it does little or nothing with them, then this may be a “rhetorical question” that makes the US students feel like they have a voice.

4. Confidentiality

US Survey has legal information and a link:


Canadian Survey has no legal information:


  • Does the Canadian survey not fall under national tri-council research ethics guidelines?
  • Does the survey’s methods and data security not have to adhere to the Canadian provincial privacy acts that govern information collected by provincially funded bodies like universities?
  • Are Canadian students assumed to be more willing to supply information to authorities without information about their legal rights and authority to do so?

5. Across the Country

US Survey boasts of the survey’s use “across the country”


  • Isn’t this ironic after citing the phrase “think globally…” ?
  • Notice the repetition of “around the country” in the last three lines.

Canadian Survey calls it an “international” (not national) project and boasts of “thousands” (not “more than one million”) of students in “the US and Canada” (why in that order?).


  • Why do you think they simply omitted “around the country” in the last paragraph rather than replacing it with “in the US and Canada” or “internationally”?

Your thoughts?

Why do you think these differences exist? Which reasons lay primarily in their cultural contexts, and which lay in rhetorical differences (i.e. a different persuasive/informative strategy is required for this audience) ?  Can you separate rhetoric from culture?


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