[R] re: GUI's for teaching

David Orlovich David.Orlovich at botany.otago.ac.nz
Tue Jun 25 14:57:10 CEST 2002

Hello R people.
This year I introduced R into an undergraduate Botany class and they 
handled it quite well too.  The exercise was a simple one that was 
heavily guided in the notes, but they were able to do simple 
multivariate analyses and plot nice annotated graphs and dendrograms 
using the command line by the end of the first lab class - and I could 
tell they felt empowered by the deeper understanding they got from doing 
the analyses step by step.  We also had a recent 4-day workshop on 
multivariate stats and R where 80 postgrad students and staff all got 
introduced to R on the last day.  Suddenly R went from something unheard 
of by many of our students to something they all felt they could at 
least try to learn about, which is just fantastic.

The comments of one person who responded to this thread suggested that R 
is primarily used by researchers who have high level needs:

 >most users of R tend to be in research, or
 >have a requirement for flexability from a suitably heavyweight language.
 >Few using R are unfamilier with programming at some level and really for
 >these people there is no need to have anything other than the command

but from my point of view it is something that has many applications at 
the undergraduate level and will replace expensive software packages 
used by postgrads and academics alike in Biology Departments where 
statistics is the tool and not the main focus of the research effort.  
My main concern of late is not a problem with the command line 
interface, but the messages on these email lists about how easy it 
should be for Mac users of R to run the Darwin version and not the 
carbonised version of R.  It'll be one thing (easy) to get undergrads 
and postgrads interested in using R - even playing around with it in 
their own time on their home computers!, but expecting them to learn 
UNIX geek-speak as well might just put it out of reach for many of 
them.  Cheers!  David Orlovich.

On Wednesday, June 26, 2002, at 12:12  AM, Frank E Harrell Jr wrote:

> On Tue, 25 Jun 2002 17:31:08 +0800
> Rohan Sadler <rsadler at agric.uwa.edu.au> wrote:
>> Dear All,
>> This is a question to sound out possibilities.
>> I am with the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the
>> University of Western Australia, representing a few of the more
>> statistically minded in the faculty. Essentially, there have been
>> problems in the past with software support, changing over statistical
>> software, and paying lots of money for it. In R you have an advanced
>> statistical software package, it is free and it is adaptable. Also the
>> maths department at UWA is using it on an informal basis and so support
>> over the long term is available. The only reason why the faculty is not
>> using R as a whole is because there is no GUI equivalent to
>> Minitab/SPLUS/Genstat in R that can be used for undergraduate teaching
>> purposes (unless I'm seriously mistaken). In RWindows there is the GUI,
>> but it is not designed to carry statistical functions with buttons for
>> options and this is what is needed for low statistical level 
>> undergrads.
>> There is RWeb, but at this stage of development you wont find many
>> takers in the faculty.
>> What I want to know is this: can anyone give me a quote on what it will
>> cost to develop a RWindows clone of the Minitab GUI. This GUI would
>> support initially the simple six (EDA, probabilities and quantiles of
>> distributions, t-tests,one-way anova, chi-square, and simple linear
>> regression), and have the potential to develop into the next level of
>> statistical analysis (glms, multivariate methods, time series and
>> spatial - analytical problems common across our faculty). If the cost 
>> of
>> development is comparable to present licence maintenance fees at FNAS
>> then I think our small group can argue for its adoption. Not only that,
>> the benefits to undergraduate teaching in other universities would be
>> immense. If development costs are high then other faculties at other
>> universities, where the software licencing arrangements are also
>> troublesome, are also invited to participate in this potential project.
>> I imagine this question has been discussed before, but I hope to have
>> but an interesting turn to it.
>> Regards
>> Rohan Sadler
>> Ecosystems Research Group
>> School of Plant Biology (Botany)
>> Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences
>> +61 8 9380 7914
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> I teach new students using primarily commands.  The first 3 weeks are 
> tough, but then the use of commands over GUIs starts to pay off.  So I 
> don't think it is worth a major effort to implement GUIs, and the GUIs 
> would always lag behind R development.  A better approach would be to 
> implement the most often needed analyses on a Web server using R and 
> Perl etc.  See 
> http://hesweb1.med.virginia.edu/biostat/teaching/statcomp for links to 
> some good examples (although for more complex analyses than you need).  
> -Frank
> --
> Frank E Harrell Jr              Prof. of Biostatistics & Statistics
> Div. of Biostatistics & Epidem. Dept. of Health Evaluation Sciences
> U. Virginia School of Medicine  http://hesweb1.med.virginia.edu/biostat
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Dr David Orlovich,
Ecology, Conservation and Biodiversity Research Group,
Department of Botany,
The University of Otago
PO Box 56,
Dunedin, New Zealand.

Telephone: (03) 479 9060 (international +643 479 9060)
Mobile: 021 133 9773 (international +6421 133 9773)
Fax: (03) 479 7583 (international +643 479 7583)
WWW: http://www.otago.ac.nz/botany/ and http://telperion.otago.ac.nz/erg/
email: david.orlovich at botany.otago.ac.nz
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