Friday, January 24, 2020

A Simple Post Value Add to a Class

This week, I did something that I never did before in my 18 years of teaching in the College! I sent an email (via our Content Management System: Moodle) to my on-line class summarising all that we had covered in the previous evening's class. Even though it was the first week of the new semester, and it was also the first week for my students who were just starting their course this January - I was surprised at how much we had covered.

The module is a programming module, for many students it was their first time writing any code. Here's is (part of) what I sent to my class the next day:

Following last evening's class, you should be able to do the following (which is a lot for your first day!):
  1. Install R
  2. Install and run RStudio
  3. Explore the RStudio interface (4 quadrants)
  4. Create and save a new R script
  5. Use hashtags to insert comments/note in an R script
  6. Display a simple message in the console ("Hello World")
  7. Navigate and Set your Working Directory every time you start RStudio
  8. Watch out for syntax errors (the typos of programming) - as you have already found out, a misplaced comma can cause havoc
  9. Try to make sense of error messages so that you can fix code that does not work
  10. Use functions - we used print(), read.csv(), head(), tail(), plot(), and ggplot()
  11. Install an R library (we installed ggplot2)
  12. Run/load an R library
  13. Open a file (.CSV) in R and display its contents
  14. Read the contents of a file into a vector (diamondData in our example)
  15. Use R to refer to individual variables (eg, "carat" in the diamondData file)
  16. Be a programmer!
This is not an innovative thing to do - it's very simple, and I'm sure many other educators already do this. I chose to do this the day after to try and motivate students who were subjected to a four hour class in which many had frustrating technical difficulties, plus of course plenty of errors that first time programmers always get. I felt that a "look what you have done already..." message might be useful (as well as motivating) for them.

But when I was compiling the list, I think I'm probably the most surprised person - it is only when I see a list like this that I realise that far from being an introductory class, we did actually cover a lot of material. Obviously, I could put this on a slide for review at the end of a class, but I think that a separate communication rather than a simple slide works better - especially for on-line students. Hopefully I will do a few more of these in future classes.

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