It's only the beginning of Week 2 of the quarter, but after today I'm already having second thoughts about my enthusiasm for R. I should have known better, but it is always the mundane technical details that can trip you up and derail an entire 90 minutes of class time. Today was the first real meeting of the lab section of my new econometrics course, in which the students were to download a pre-written R script from our Camino course page and run it. Well guess what? The R files refuse to download. Even I, who uploaded them in the first place, cannot retrieve them from the site. Camino help is... no help. My friends in Instructional Technology will sort it out, I hope.
Meanwhile, my stopgap on the fly was to email the script files to all the students. So far, so good. But then, R is finicky about the folder you put them into. Make sure your R project is in the same place as the script and the data, or nothing will run! Undergrad computer users, unfortunately, seem not to know the architecture of their machine's file structure... especially on the Mac. One by one we got it fixed for just about everyone... and class was just about over.
By the way, the interface RStudio will not run on Mac OSX 10.5.x... and one student has an old machine... there is a workaround, once you find it...
Several colleagues have asked me: How about an R-based stats course for the MBA students too? For sure, my friends, for sure... just what is it worth to you?
As an empirical economist, I crunch a lot of numbers, and Stata is my statistical software of choice, as it is for many economists. Stata is powerful, easy to use, and well designed. It can be run interactively, using an extensive set of draw-down menus, or by writing and submitting batch programs. When our Economics Department decided to develop a new, required data analysis and econometrics course for all our undergrad majors, Stata was the early odds-on favorite. But upon further thought, and with some trepidation, we have adopted R instead. This fall I will be offering the course for the first time... this summer I am teaching myself enough R to stay a step ahead of my undergrads... I hope!
Why R? Unless you are a programmer or a mathemetician, it is not an intuitive or user-friendly program. But it is extremely powerful and versatile, increasingly widely used in academics and business, open source, and free. It offers every basic econometric technique, and most advanced techniques. It creates beautiful graphics. The minority of our majors who go on to graduate level work in Economics or a related discipline can use R in their research, or easily jump to Stata or something else. For the majority of our students who will pursue employment in the private sector, some facility with R will be a real plus in the job market.
So, how to teach R to a class full of undergrads with limited or no programming background and a fairly high incidence of quanti-phobia? ... while simultaneously teaching the concepts and applications of regression analysis? Our first strategy is to require a 2-unit lab course alongside the regular 4-unit lecture section. The lab will be devoted to hands-on data analysis: Turn on your computers, download that data, and run that R script. I can't expect them to write a program from scatch, so my plan is to provide basic R scripts as templates they can tweak and adapt for their own purposes.
To help make R as painless as we can, we have engaged an R-savvy undergrad, Bobby Fatemi, to help write a course-specific guide to R for Santa Clara students, which will stick to just what they need to know, step by step. We plan to use hands-on examples with data from the assigned textbook, Stock and Watson's Introduction to Econometrics.
In the lecture portion of the class, I plan to use the tablet for board work, alongside a second computer running R for demonstrating the data analysis. Of course I want the students to learn about data analysis-- the promise and pitfalls of its use in social science. But I also hope to encourage them to "play" with the techniques. How much does lingering high unemployment really reduce Barack Obama's chances of reelection? Instead of bullshitting about it, we can download some unemployment and election data and estimate a model!
So: onward! More reports to follow... wish me luck.
This post from Prof. Doug Ward about using voice comments on on-line papers resonated with me as I don't think the students find on-line text grading as personal as hand written comments on paper. Interesting given that they can't read my writing (and sometimes I have a hard time myself)...
Humanline sent me an interesting email this week:
We would like to invite you to www.humanline.com - a visual library of
history, art and science that is free for educational use. You can
download images and use them in classroom environment in any way that
you want. Currently there are more than two thousand high-quality
images and new content is being added every day.
Any feedback or idea how to make our project more useful will be great.
If you like our project, you can support it by putting a link on your
blog to us and sharing it with other educators.
Admin at http://www.humanline.com
About www.humanline.com: Our visual archive licenses images for
professional use and all of our content is immediately downloadable and
up to the highest technical and legal standards. Humanline.com is owned
by Humanline foundation and is member of Picture Archive Council of
America (PACA) and International Society for Education through Arts
(InSEA), part of UNESCO.
For more images/video/music for legal use, contact Gloria, James, or Mike.
Temple gave out $1000 grants to support professors creating digital textbooks. Apple is offering iBooks Author. I've asked my students for their opinion and will post back. We use the Camino calendar to link to the days readings and assignments (and most of the time the links work). The students only had to pay for 2 cases.
What has worked for you?
Care of the Chronicle of Higher Ed and Buford Barr:
...and so is the Chronicle of Higher Education. I've just returned from a social media conference where not surprisingly, many of the faculty use social media in support of their teaching. When I got home I wanted to see what a broader audience of faculty might have been doing and found Gamifying Homework by Jason Jones. Interesting to think of this in parallel with the recent NYT/Chronicle article on business student disengagement.
We received the following from Jay Matheson after the Apple in Education Workshop -- Enjoy!
Thank you for attending the Apple in Education workshop. Because some people were not able to attend our session, I am sending this to everyone who registered for the session.
I know that there were several questions and I have asked our Inside Account Executive to follow up directly with you.
Here are some of the resources mentioned in the session:
Learning with iPad (includes link to video)
Mac OS X Server
Apple - FaceTime - Make video calls to iPhone 4 from your Mac.
University of Texas at Austin LIFE Program (Laptop Initiative)
Abilene Christian University
The University of Iowa - Mobile Web Beta
(Online washing machines)
iPod touch Apps
Here are a few of the apps that were loaded on the iPod touch devices made available during the session:
Documents to Go
Blackboard Mobile Learn (requires campus server configuration)
HP 12C Financial Calculator
Google Mobile App
eTextbooks for the iPhone
Sign 4 Me
Cisco WebEx Meeting Center
Here are a few of the apps that were loaded on the iPad devices made available during the session:
The Elements: A Visual Exploration
modalityBODY: Interactive Anatomy and Medical Imaging for iPad
Star Walk for iPad
HISTORY: Maps of the World
Challenge Based Learning/Student Generated content
* Mention of third party apps is for informational purposes only. Some applications are not available in all areas. Application availability and pricing are subject to change.
Thanks for attending and please don't hesitate to contact any member of the Apple Education team. We'd welcome the opportunity to work with you.
Apple Development Executive
I'm attending in a wonderful Apple presentation on the use of mobile computing in education. One example they gave was from Abilene Christian University and how they have been able to use mobile applications to enhance the learning experience. ACU is very open about their experience. Take a look at their website here.
I've also found Stanford's iphone app helpful in figuring out where the good parking is, etc.
Is anyone using or creating an app for Santa Clara?
I'm sitting in one of the Learning Commons Media labs watching Gloria Hofer teach the third of my three sections of Organizational Analysis and Design. With Gloria's help I've added a Knowledge Reuse Video as a deliverable for my students' final project. I'm the audience for their reports, their clients are the audience for this video.
The Instructional Technology team is critical for this project's success. Gloria helped me with the learning objectives, interim deliverables, and grading rubric. She also came to my classes to describe the "story arc," storyboards, scripts, and video shooting basics. We then joined her in the media lab for a demonstration of the power of iMovie and the resources available from Media Services. The students (and faculty!) can check out HD video camera, hard drives, and use the labs media-powered computers and software.