R Statistical Programming Language

The R Project provides a comprehensive, free, open source statistical programming language and environment based on the S language. R is the name of both the language and the environment in which you generally use the language. It’s an interactive environment where the commands you enter generate immediate results that you can use to guide your analyses.

Your Best Starting Point

Download and install R. Download and install RStudio. Read R for Data Science.

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The Last Lecture

One of the most widely watched videos about teaching, learning, and life, Randy Pausch’s talk– The Last Lecture— offers lessons from which we could all benefit.

I find Dr. Pausch’s creativity and joy of teaching to be inspiring. In the last months of his life, he managed to share with the world his love of a life well-lived.


IST100: Internet & Information Access

Location: University at Albany, State University of New York
Terms: Fall 2008
Class size: ~ 350 students/term

IST100 is an introduction to citation and information management in the digital age. Students are introduced to the fundamentals of research, intellectual property, information sourcing, database searching, and citation management using Zotero software.

Reading Materials

  • Various online sources and tutorials

IST659: Digital Imaging & The Web

Location: University at Albany, State University of New York
Terms: Fall 2008
Class size: ~ 20 students/term

IST659 introduces students to image capture, storage, manipulation, retrieval, and use in a Web environment. Students create a portfolio project demonstrating their mastery of the skills and knowledge developed in this course.

Reading Materials

  • Powers, S. (2008). Painting the Web: O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Mr. Justice Brandeis on Liberty

Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

OLMSTEAD v. U.S., 277 U.S. 438 (1928)
Mr. Justice BRANDEIS (dissenting)

On Assuming I Know What I Mean When First I Speak

I often begin reasoning from first principles of which I may not initially be aware; they unfold to me as I explain my thinking over minutes, days, and weeks. I don’t see this as a matter for concern. I follow in the step of many writers who have expressed the idea that they learn what they think as they write and re-write it.

However, this can lead to the impression that I’m not trying to be precise or decisive. Quite the opposite is true. My willingness to continue refining my thoughts, often times in private and slowly, is just that: my attempt to be both precise and decisive, albeit in the face of imperfect information.

How can any of us claim to be honestly engaged in conversation if we’re unwilling or unable to refine our thoughts?

Commenting on Student Writing

We often find ourselves commenting on students’ writing and acting as editors rather than critical readers: we indicate line-level edits, such as missing commas and poor word choices– as if fixing the mechanical errors would make the paper acceptable. In reality, most student papers we see are first drafts, often written the night before the assignment is due and unedited by anyone, including the author. (See my post concerning the design of assignments, coming soon.)

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Six Words Challenge

I’ve been inspired by a recent reminder of the old story about Hemingway and how he was asked to write a complete novel in only six words. I immediately began thinking about how I could distill advice to educators down to just six words. What can you say about assessment (as opposed to grading), instructional design, program evaluation, classroom management, and so on in just six words?

My first shot: Don’t solve problems students don’t have.

What six-word guidance do you have for educational best practices?

Can Apple’s Gadgets Converge with Apple’s Other Gadgets?

I’m a fan of Apple products. I like the design and I like the overall user experience. That’s not to say that Apple products (both hardware and software) or Apple itself is without flaw; they certainly fall down in some spots. But I’m reassured that they at least try, unlike so many other companies out there.

One of the areas I wish Apple would get its act together on is convergence with its own product lines! Different docks for each iPod/iPhone model has always bothered me, although the dock connector has been going strong for some time now. Similarly, the initial software disparity between the iPod Touch and the iPhone — shameless and unnecessary! The marginal cost of including the full suite of Safari, Mail, and so on for iPod Touch users from the start would have been so much less than the public relations fiasco of having to charge for the software upgrade, once Apple finally realized the error of their ways.

I’d like to pick on one particular technology where Apple missed the opportunity boat, however: The earphones that come with the iPhone; they’re not the highest audiophile quality around, but they suffice. The inclusion of the mic and push to answer/hangup/play/pause button on the right-hand earbud is wonderful. Apple has managed to train me to use it and I love them for it. I love it when the music pods down when there’s an incoming call, and I love the ability to just click-to-answer.

I love the features so much so that I’m shocked when I’m using those very same earphones plugged into my MacBook and they don’t work as my Apple training has led me to expect.

  • I should be able to listen to my music (no problem)
  • I should be able to click to play/pause music (can’t)
  • I should be able to use them as a headset/mic for audio/video iChats (can’t)
  • When an audio/video iChat invite comes in, my music should pod down and I should be able to click-to-answer (can’t)

In short, I want the same features on my notebook that I have on my iPhone with those cute earbuds! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been sitting in the library or cafe and had an iChat invite come in and you know, my first instinct was to click the button on the earphones. Invariably, I then have a moment of confusion, followed by disappointment as I context-switch and figure out how to answer the invite.

Apple can do better at very little cost, it would downgrade gracefully for users of standard earphones just like it does on the iPhone, and the overall Apple user experience would be smoother and black-turtle-neck-style cooler.

Read Like a Graduate Student, not a Mystery Fan

First year graduate students often struggle with the volume of reading required. It’s not uncommon to have assigned to you hundreds of pages a week on a range of topics. The typical course may cover the contents of a half-dozen books and 75-100 academic papers. All of this you’re meant to consume, understand, and synthesize with everything you know. The task is, to say the least, daunting.

It doesn’t have to be so difficult to read academic works; people make simple reading mistakes that are easily corrected.

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Endnote: Save PDFs of web pages and online articles

Endnote is primarily intended to help you store citation information and create bibliographies for your academic papers, but it also allows you to collect PDFs of the documents. This is helpful for journal articles, and fantastic for dynamic content.

When reading online articles or web pages that you might need to cite, print to PDF and attach the PDF file to your Endnote record. On Mac OS X, this capability is built-in to the Print dialog. In Windows, you’ll need to install software that allows you to print to PDF.

The purpose of a citation is to allow your readers (and you) to relocate the material you use as evidence in your writing. By keeping a PDF of web pages as you saw them, you have the exact material on which you’re basing your quotations and interpretations. In other words, you (and your critics) have access to the version you’re relying on, even if it’s later changed significantly.

This is particularly important when the material you’re citing changes frequently, such as newspaper articles and political websites.

What will you improve today?