6 - What questions do you have about the reading or about the course?

  • Are we always going to have early access to these PS documents?

Yes, that is my intention.

  • Are we going to be going over the answers/possible answers for each Problem Set? I found that a lot of the times I struggle with courses because when doing pre-class assignments I only received participation credit rather than actual feedback about my answers.

Yes, as much as possible we will be going over the Problem Sets in the class period immediately following when they are due. So with them being due at 10 AM, we’ll start class going over the responses. You’ll also find the responses to your questions in FAQs like this.

  • Why/How is R free?

R is free in much the same way that Wikipedia is free. It is sustained through various volunteers and an active user community that strive to make it better.

  • I am not really sure what you mean by reproducible?

You’ll better understand this after we get into R. Suppose you had an error in your initial data but you had already performed all of your analyses. In a non-reproducible framework, you’d have to go through and redo everything from beginning to end. Reproducible also means that if you pass your work off to someone else, they will get exactly the same results.

  • I think this question will largely be answered once we all get started on the R server and begin using the program but I guess I am just confused about what R actually is. How it really works and what we will be doing in it in regards to statistics? Also will we be learning about more ‘traditional’ statistical things; how to tell if data and graphs are reliable or statistically significant, what the best analysis type is of different kinds of data, that sort of thing? I am slightly concerned that focusing on or trying to learn R wont allow me to learn those types of things as well along the way, which is largely why I was interested in social statistics.

You are correct that I think you’ll have a better sense of why we are using R after we get into it a bit. You’ll still learn all the content you need to understand most social science statistical analyses but you’ll be doing so in much the same way that professional statisticians and scientists do their work. They don’t sit with a calculator or a table of values in the way that statistics is traditionally taught. The course will be focused on understanding which analyses is appropriate and then on interpretting the results of the analysis. We won’t be focused on plugging and chugging with a calculator through formulas since that’s not what statistical practioners do.

  • I am curious as to what we will be doing with this program, from the initial reading and pretest i don’t understand how programing quite ties into statistics, and what this will look like.

I think you’ll have a better sense of this after we play around in R some. If this question isn’t answered after say Chapter 4, we’ll need to meet to chat.

  • Is it common for many students who have never taken a stats class to struggle in this course?

No. In my experience, students that have little to know math background or even a fear of mathematics have still obtained the highest grades in similar courses and gone on to take other statistics classes. This is designed for someone completely new to statistics.

  • Through the use of R, will we solely be using it to analyze data and to produce data plots?

We will be using R to analyze data and produce plots. We will be using RStudio to help us with keeping track of variables and our analysis and we will use R Markdown to put our analyses and interpretations together.

  • How do I download the program for R?

You can find instructions in Chapter 3 of the “Getting Used to R, RStudio, and R Markdown” book if you’d like to install R and RStudio on your own computer. For this class, you won’t need to download anything though. You’ll have access to RStudio via an RStudio Server at http://beta.rstudio.org.

  • Why is it so important to use this R program for stats and coding? Everything I know about stats collecting numbers and analyzing them, so where does coding come into play? I’ve always though coding was more for programing things.

Coding ensures that our processes are reproducible. When you follow drop down menus to get results, you will often forget exactly which option you selected. It’s also difficult to pass the entire process off to someone else if you didn’t write code. You’ll have a better sense of this in the next few weeks I think.

  • Why go through all the work creating codes to create graphs if we can just skip all the coding and make the graphs manually.

Because that process of manual creation using something like Excel or another process is not reproducible and it is frequently hard to make little tweaks to a manually produced plot without starting all over again.

  • Will we have a “cheat sheet”/manual of all the codes we can give a computer in R?

I believe this will be something I’ll ask each of you to do as you work with R. Each of you will have commands that you know better than others. There are built-in cheatsheets from RStudio that cover a lot of what we will be doing (and a lot more too) and you can find how to get to them in Section 4.5 here.

  • Coming in with no programing or coding background am I already behind in the course?

Nope. I’m expecting and wanting to teach this class to complete beginners with no programming experience at all. The fact that you have no background means that you don’t have bad habits already created that can cause problems. This is designed to help you learn how to program and also see the value of programming with statistics.

  • On A Modern Drive, it have a graph labeled Colophon, then has different versions of packages, what exactly is this? Will we need to know it?

Definitely not. As I mentioned there “This may not be of importance for initial readers of this book, but the hope is you can reproduce a duplicate of this book by installing these versions of the packages.” This is designed for folks that would like to create their own version of my book, but not for students immediately. We’ll be loading the required packages in the chunk right above it in class.

  • A question about the course that I have is if the skills and information that we are going to be learning regarding R could be applied to other things in the future? What are the possibilities that we can do using our knowledge of R as a basis.

That is the hope. I believe that learning R will be an incredibly useful skill for you as you enter the work force or continue your studies. My previous students have used R while completing their senior theses and in various classes to do statistical analyses. They’ve also used R Markdown to type reports for other classes.

  • I’ve never heard of R; why is that? Will I finally be able to remember what t-tests go with which data sets by the end of this course? Also, how old is Madison and is Sparkles or Indiana her best friend?

I don’t have a good answer for why you haven’t heard of R. We should probably chat individually about what programs you have heard of before.

A big goal of my class is for you to understand which types of analyses are appropriate for given problem set-ups. You’ll see how the t-test came about, but without all of the formulas and math that can sometimes get in the way of understanding that it is just an approximation.

Madison is about 4.5 years now we think. We got her from a shelter when she was around 1. I will plead the 5th on who her best friend is :-). Anyone who plays with her is her best friend at the moment, human or dog.

  • Maybe not relevant, but do you have any ideas for how statistics would relate to creative writing or theatre? I couldn’t think of any myself.

Off the top of my head, I’m not exactly sure but a 1-on-1 conversion with you may be able to help us identify some spots where there is an overlap.

  • In the chapters it mention that no statistics formulas will be taught in this class, so is this a programming class? Will steps for the different kinds of inferences/conditions still be taught?

The formulas will be taught, but you won’t be asked to memorize them and you’ll see using the computer and programming how these formulas came about. Inference really boils down to just a few steps. You’ll see reasons why the conditions need to be met for the traditional formulas to work and what you can do if those conditions aren’t met (which is more than you may think).

  • What is the most challenging type of mathematics we will use in order to solve problems?

I’m not sure that there is anything really advanced mathematically in this course. Some of the formulas may seem complicated but the focus will be on how they approximate simulation using R and not necessarily on the mathematical theory behind them.

7 - What concerns do you have about the course?

  • My concern is that I wont have any idea what I am doing once the hand holding segment of the class is over. The only way I can think of that would Alleviate stress is making sure we are comfortable enough with the basic stuff before you let us go out on our own with R.

I’m not going to completely through you out there without any help after these first few weeks. That would just be mean and would potentially stun you enough to not like R. I won’t do that to you. We’ll continue to work at a pace appropriate to your learning as you continue to practice.

  • Some concerns I have about the course would first be the pace of the class. I understand that we only have this class two days out of the week and I’m concerned with getting a big work load when we have less class days to meet and talk about the work that we are doing. Second thing I am worried about is the necessary vocabulary words that we will need to know for this course (i.e. Hadley’s workflow graphic?), and the extent to which we need to know them.

I’m frequently available to chat via email or video chat as needed to help you. We’ll also devote quite a bit of time in class to helping you work on problems and gain understanding. A general rule is that if you aren’t sure about what a vocabulary word means, you should put it down on a note card and quiz yourself as to its meaning. I don’t want you to be memorizing definitions but I do want you to apply the terms to different problems. The only way you can do this is by “speaking the language” and that takes practice on your own.

  • Math was never my strong suit so I am just worried that this course will closely mirror my previous math experiences. All I can do is try differently and hope for the best.

I want you as much as possible to forget about your past experiences with math. I know that isn’t easy, but I can’t rewrite the past for you. If you believe in yourself and look for opportunities to grow, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how much you are learning. If you’d like to meet individually to go over things, I’m always happy to do so.

  • How much outside work will be required in this class? It seems as if it will be a consistently heavy load of work.

That’s hard to say and depends on just how many other things you have going on. In an ideal world, you are spending about an hour a day quizzing yourself on the topics you’ve just learned as well as writing your own quizzes to check for understanding. It will be a heavy load of work though, but I hope that is spaced out appropriately. The worst thing you can do is fall behind and if that begins to happen, we’ll need to chat one-on-one.

  • I am mildly concerned that I won’t have enough time to work on assignments if class is Monday and then things are due on Tuesday. Also that I will forget assignments or the time they are due because the hour is different for each one and it isn’t on Moodle like I am used to.

The labs will usually be given on Thursday of the previous week. If you begin them then or on Friday and not wait until Monday, you’ll have plenty of time in class on Monday to ask questions.

I recommend putting these into your calendar as the due dates for assignments. Check the schedule as well since this doesn’t always apply:

* Mondays - PS - 10:00 AM
* Tuesdays - Lab - 3:00 PM
* Wednesdays - PS - 10:00 AM
* Thursdays - Lab - 3:00 PM
  • I am concerned about struggling with learning and using Rstudio because programing is completely new to me. With that said i am keeping an open mind and if i struggle i will work with others outside of class and take advantage of your office hours so i don’t fall behind.

I’m happy that you are keeping an open mind and I am glad to work with you to get better. This can be in class or individually. I want you to like R and I know that takes a lot of work from me and I like that :-).

  • I am concerned given the fact that I SUCK at math and at grasping mathematical concepts. I have never taken a stats class before. Maybe meeting with you on a regular basis if I do begin to struggle will help.

Please do let me know if you’d like to meet once or twice a week to talk about things. I believe that your initial hesitations will get better if you believe in yourself and look for chances to grow and learn.

  • As of now, I do not have any concerns because I took Elementary Stats in my sophomore year, so I have experience programming. However, I am just worried about the little mistakes I will make while plotting, although I know I can improve with time and practice. And also I was forced to redo this whole document over again due to problem in the Google network, so I’ll make sure to keep screenshots of my answers before I press submit!

Little mistakes will be OK. Failures are the way our brain learns. Programming is nice in that you will get immediate feedback on whether what you are doing is correct. Sorry about the issues with Google. I will try to remember to recommend you type your answers elsewhere first, save those documents, and then put that into the Google Form.

  • I am very concerned about programming. I was not good in stats in high school.

I understand this concern. I wasn’t very good at programming when I first started either. But we will work on it together and we’ll get better. I believe that this experience with statistics will be better than your previous ones and if it isn’t, we should chat about it sooner rather than later.

  • I am extremely nervous about this course. I am not very good with technology or computers, so the idea of having to use R and programming is petrifying. I am excited to learn, but am nervous for the amount of work and outside time I will have to be putting in, in order to not fall behind and sort of understand what we are supposed to be doing.

Bear with me. I think you’ll find it to be a fun experience once we get over the initial fears. We’ll devote a lot of time in class to working through things together too, but you will need to do outside work to ensure you are keeping up. Check the tips for success on good ways to save time and feel confident about your learning.

  • I have used R before in high school and it was so complicated because I didn’t know what the point of coding was and I didn’t understand what I was doing. How much has R changed since then or has it become easier to use and understand.

When I first learned R in 2007, I NEVER EVER thought I’d be teaching it to undergrads. I promise it has gotten a LOT better since 2010. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be teaching it to you. RStudio and R Markdown have made it immensely easier to work with in my opinion. Your experience with R will be valuable though and I’d like to learn more about your prior experiences.

  • I have never coded before in my life, see things in a much more qualitative than quantitative light, and have hard time recognizing patterns. I foresee needing extra help with the practical applications of concepts (coding), but am hoping for the best. I am freaked out less by the actual material and more by the fact that I am unable to just intuitively understand the material. i spend most of my time in English and soc/anthro classrooms so this a change of scene. I really want to learn how to do this, as it is an absolutely essential professional skill for me.

Your aspirations to learn will go a long way and I think you’ll be surprised that this is a lot more artistic than strictly quantitative. At least that’s my hope. I’m always happy to meet individually too.

  • The idea of coding and trying to understand coding scares me. Is it easier to learn than it seems?

I believe so and you aren’t alone in this. It’s my job to help you see the value and I completely understand that the vast majority of you have never programmed ever before. That’s OK. We’ll get better one step at a time.

  • How much time outside of class we will need to dedicate to R? Will the tests match up pretty well with what we learn in R? Like no curve balls?

I think this question will be more easily answered after you have been assigned Lab 1 and you begin to work through analyses. I understand you have other obligations, but I’d recommend spending an hour whenever possible each day working on material or quizzing yourself about content.

I’ll try as much as possible to give you examples of previous test questions and to help you prepare for assessments in the best way that I can. I don’t plan to through you any curve balls, but I will be asking you to extend some of the ideas from class from time to time. You’ll see this when you enter the work force or in your further studies, so I’m trying to instill in you ways to effectively build knowledge by extending what you know to solve new problems.

  • The timeline/pressure of being able to comprehend R programming efficiently. I hope that I can catch on to it soon so that I don’t fall behind with further class activities.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised when we hop in. And we’ll devote a lot of class time helping you get used to it. If you were learning Spanish for the first time, I wouldn’t be asking you to recite or write a novel in the first week. I won’t be expecting you to do anything extremely hard in R either until you have a better feel for it.

  • I haven’t taken a math-based course since my freshman year of college, so I might be rusty when it comes to calculations. I am also concerned that since I don’t have an actual laptop, this course will be much more of a challenge for me.

We can talk about calculations and formulas whenever you have trouble. We’ll mostly be relying on R to do them for us. I’ll make sure that folks are getting through the work on the RStudio Server a lot early on. Let me know if something isn’t going well.

  • No specific concerns, but I do have a bad history with math classes so I’m kind of nervous. Even though I know you said this won’t be a very math-heavy course.

Just keep on trying to improve and try as much as possible to not associate this class with your bad experiences. I am confident this will be a much better experience and if it isn’t, I’d like to talk about how to make it better.

  • I am not very computer-minded and so my concern is that I won’t learn statistics on pace if I am too behind on learning computer commands.

I’ve had non-tech savvy students in similar courses in the past that were concerned about this as well just as I was for them. They were surprised and I think you will be too at how quickly they picked up material after carefully studying and trying different things with their code.

  • I’m concerned about not being able to tell the differences between the types of data we will be studying.

This will be a big focus of the course and we’ll be doing a lot of practice on this. I want you to be able to take what you learn in this class and, by the end of the course, help someone else with a statistical project from scratch.