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02.10.2014 11:15

First "Introduction to R" online course took place at UZH

The R system for statistical computing and graphics is an integrated suite of software facilities for data manipulation, exploration and graphical display.  During the last ten years, R became the most important tool for data analysis and visualisation in quantitative research, both in academia and the industry.  Owing to its open-source development model, the software is available to everyone and thousands of contributors extend and improve the system constantly. This makes R the ideal environment for introducing students to the art of data analysis.

During the last MNF faculty retreat, the MNF put emphasis on two important teaching issues: increasing the computer literacy of all students at the faculty and creating teaching formats that allow to introduce more students to data-centric computing more efficiently.

Professors Owen Petchey (Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies), Torsten Hothorn (Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Prevention Institute), Reinhard Furrer (Institut of Mathematics), and Jan Seibert (Geography Department) designed and created a new course "Introduction to R", having all students of MNF in mind. The course material consists of a series of problem studies which are specific to each discipline. By watching online videos, students can look over the shoulders of the instructor tackling a specific problem. The tasks performed are explained in more detail in skills lessons, focusing for example on data import, data manipulation, and data visualisation.

Using this material and modular structure, courses can be constructed for particular groups of students in mind (e.g., geography students or biology students) by defining providing a "roadmap" through the material. The online learning is accompanied by in-person exercises, where students discuss and solve assignments with an instructor present. The modular structure of the course material facilitates addition and integration of new problem studies and skills lessons, for diverse student groups.

The first course based on this new mix of online and in-person lessons took place September 7-12 as the Master of Biostatistics STA260 "Introduction to R" course supervised by Torsten Hothorn. Apart from the new students enrolled into the Master program, students from different UZH PhD programs and from other Swiss universities participated in the course. Future courses to use the material include
STA 120 "Introduction to Statistics", BIO 377 "Basic quantitative methods", and ECO 332 "R4All. A recipe for success with R".

Please contact any of the four organising Professors for further information and discussion.

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