Re: [R] Using R in a university course: dealing with proposal comments

From: John Fox <jfox_at_mcmaster.ca>
Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2008 08:11:37 -0500

Dear Arin,

> -----Original Message-----
> From: r-help-bounces_at_r-project.org [mailto:r-help-bounces_at_r-
> project.org] On Behalf Of Arin Basu
> Sent: February-10-08 10:41 PM
> To: r-help_at_r-project.org
> Subject: [R] Using R in a university course: dealing with proposal
> comments
>
> Hi All,
>
> I am scheduled to teach a graduate course on research methods in
> health sciences at a university. While drafting the course proposal, I
> decided to include a brief introduction to R, primarily with an
> objective to enable the students to do data analysis using R. It is
> expected that enrolled students of this course have all at least a
> formal first level introduction to quantitative methods in health
> sciences and following completion of the course, they are all expected
> to either evaluate, interpret, or conduct primary research studies in
> health. The course would be delivered over 5 months, and R was
> proposed to be taught as several laboratory based hands-on sessions
> along with required readings within the coursework.
>
> The course proposal went to a few colleagues in the university for
> review. I received review feedbacks from them; two of them commented
> about inclusion of R in the proposal.
>
> In quoting parts these mails, I have masked the names/identities of
> the referees, and have included just part of the relevant text with
> their comments. Here are the comments:
>
> Comment 1:
>
> "In my quick glance, I did not see that statistics would be taught,
> but I did see that R would be taught. Of course, R is a statistics
> programme. I worry that teaching R could overwhelm the class. Or
> teaching R would be worthless, because the students do not understand
> statistics. " (Prof LR)

As others have pointed out, this is potentially a valid point, but it is applicable to all statistical software. I use R in several different courses for social-science undergraduates and grad students, but the focus is on the statistical methods, with R as a tool. In introductory courses, I use the Rcmdr package to simplify students' interaction with R. Beyond that level, I want students to learn to use R as a practical tool for data analysis, so I teach them to write commands. In all courses, students have much more difficulty with the substantive course content than with R, which they pick up readily.

> Comment 2:
>
> Finally, on a minor point, why is "R" the statistical software being
> used? SPSS is probably more widely available in the workplace -
> certainly in areas of social policy etc. " (Prof NB)

I don't have concrete data on this, and I'm sure that usage varies by field, but I'd bet that R is now more widely used overall (and internationally) than SPSS. Moreover, it wouldn't take students long to learn to point-and-click their way through SPSS if they have to use it in future.

I hope this helps,
 John

>
> I am interested to know if any of you have faced similar questions
> from colleagues about inclusion of R in non-statistics based
> university graduate courses. If you did and were required to address
> these concerns, how you would respond?
>
> TIA,
> Arin Basu
>
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