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Teaching R in Namibia – Day One

13 June 2017


As the sun rises in the bright blue sky, I can hear different birds, dogs barking and light traffic. The trees, cacti and the flowers brighten the generally brown landscape. I’m reflecting on yesterday’s teaching and the plans for today.

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I’ve come a long way to teach R, an open source statistical programming language at University of Namibia. On Saturday, I flew over 5,700 miles south to South Africa and then back about 700 miles to Windhoek, the capital city in Namibia. It took twenty four hours – but Mark, Dr David Gillespie and I finally arrived. I was invited by Dr Mark Kelson to help with a Phoenix Project event – a three day R course.

Teaching software often presents a challenge with varied levels of expertise in the room. As I’ve experienced on other R training, we had one third complete newcomers, one third intermediate users and one third experienced users. Preparing and delivering material to a diverse audience can be difficult. However, what I observed yesterday was the learners helping each other. The room buzzed with discussion. I saw people use new skills, share advice and hopefully, the start of a UNAM R community.

One of the reasons, I teach is that I always learn new things:

  • I learn things from participants and other teachers
  • I hone skills while preparing materials
  • My mind is stretched by interesting questions

Yesterday, was no different. As a small example, I learned a new function file.choose() which allows the user to find their file on their computer system.

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We prepared our materials using Github, a public version control system. Github allows us to collaborate, to share materials and to map contributions. It a “good enough” computer programming practice and we’ve honed our skills in using Github – raising pull requests. For the current version of our teaching materials – go there. Easy to fork, download, share and use.

Then, my skills were stretched as I tried to find out how to download and share packages without all the computers had access to the internet.

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So, all in all an interesting first day teaching in a bright and beautiful country on the other side of the world. Today, I’m talking about ggplot2, the graphing package I like.  It operates as part of the tidyverse – a suite of R packages designed to work together for data science. Should be interesting….

For more about my R materials, go to my other blog: R for Biochemists. Recently, I’ve been making maps of Namibia as I try to learn more about this country.

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