[R] GUI's for teaching

John Fox jfox at mcmail.cis.mcmaster.ca
Wed Jun 26 18:43:54 CEST 2002

Dear R list members,

I've read with interest the discussion about developing a GUI for R, with
particular reference to the use of R in elementary statistics classes.

Brian Ripley's point -- that students can use a GUI-based package with
little instruction and support -- is the key point for me. This isn't just
a question of laziness: Spending time teaching students command-driven
software that they may not use again after the class, or may use too
infrequently to become fluent, takes time away from teaching other things.
The counter-argument that GUIs are too easy to abuse seems perverse to me:
If students are taught to analyze data properly then they won't abuse the
software. They can produce nonsense with command-driven software as well.
Surely there's no real virtue to making things hard for people.

Another point is that the presence of a GUI provides an option, but
doesn't force anyone to use it. I never use the GUI in S-PLUS, for
example, and would likely not use a GUI in R for my own work, nor for
classes beyond the elementary level.

Finally, I wonder whether it would be helpful to refocus the discussion on
providing tools for creating GUIs rather than a GUI itself. I have in mind
a (perhaps updated) version of the kinds of tools provided by Lisp-Stat
for constructing menus and dialog boxes. Lisp-Stat makes these available
for Linux/Unix systems, Macintoshes, and Windows systems. With such tools
in place, teachers interested in creating GUIs for their classes could do
so, contributing the results to CRAN. I hesitate to make this suggestion,
since I don't have the expertise to program -- as opposed to use --
GUI-creation tools.


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