R-Studio workgroup part 2

It can be hard to be an expert in something you fear.

The promise of R and R-studio is that an open source software can do what costly packages do but better and at no cost to the user. The costs are however quite large as R is build not around drag and drop menus but rather around code, which can often be hard to decipher. In this group our goal was to create a community of learners. But as in any such community, people arrive with different skillsets and since we do not have an R-master on campus, we relied on each other to work through the challenges that arise with encountering a new system. Needless to say, R-studio is a game changer in using R. The interface provides visual cues and feedback that was not available to those relying purely on R. Another welcome change is the possibility of using R-studio in the cloud. This helps level the playing field for those with more limited hardware. (Note: it does have limitations on usage time and data but for what most of us will be doing with our students and in our work, it seems to be more than enough).

Our group had a variety of skills, but by the end of this semester some of us have a basic understanding of the logic behind R and R-Studio. Others were able to spruce up their workshops and to see different approaches to working R into their undergraduate courses.

One issue with R is that there IS code involved. There is no way to get around that, and unfortunately, at least for the time being, we do not have a dedicated R expert. Many of us often run into coding errors and get frustrated when we cannot figure them out. Hopefully in the near future we will have a stronger working relationship with R and will be able to help colleagues and students who encounter problems with the code, as opposed to simply refer them to GitHub and StackExchange for help. (Note: for the record, these two are solid resources and while it might take some time to find the right answer to your problem, you will learn about R throughout the process).

I believe that this learning community can become a perennial feature at the college, but after reading through feedback and chatting to participant I think a couple changes should be implemented to improve its effectiveness. The first is to create an “introductory program” where participants engage with the workbook and meet at regular intervals to discuss progress, roadblocks, and milestones. This would be complemented by a regular group of “advanced users” who are more engaged with R but still provide a support structure so that our R skills continue to advance.

The other thing I keep hoping for is for somebody to be truly an R expert. Somebody with both the coding and statistical skills to facilitate support across different disciplines at SNC. This would take a big commitment, but if R and R-studio turn out to be the way of the future, this might be a powerful way to empower our students to excel in data sciences, statistics, and visualization.

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