I previously posted about about my first two weeks in the MOOC course Computing for Data Analysis. The course focuses on explaining the ins and outs of using the R programming language for data analysis and graphing. Now the class is over, and I have some additional thoughts to share on the MOOC experience.
First of all, I will admit that I did not finish all of the coursework for the class. On first blush, I find this a bit embarrassing. I’m not usually one to give up on a commitment, particularly an academic pursuit. After all, you don’t get through college and graduate school by not finishing your assignments.
On reflection, however, it’s okay that I did not complete the course requirements. MOOCs are meant to be low risk, high reward experiences. You invest your time and effort, and the MOOC will provide new knowledge and perspectives.
While I did not receive “credit” for this class, I did learn a lot about R. I still have access to the videos, and I will continue to refer to them as I embark on my research project using R programming. The content from this MOOC will continue to be central resource for my work. One problem I had before this class was that I had to cobble together my knowledge from disparate sources, including textbooks that are too advanced, technical websites that are not novice friendly, and random Google searches. Now, I have videos that guide me through the steps of using R, plus different options for achieving the same goal.
Why did I not finish the class? The major problem I faced was the pace of the course. The goal of this MOOC is to give you a functional knowledge of R. The assignments require you to write your own functions in increasingly complex ways. I feel that if I took this same course over the span of a 16-week semester instead of 4 weeks, I would have been able to make more incremental steps and practice.
As it was, it took me 3-4 hours to complete the assignments in the first two weeks, in addition to the 1-2 hours of lectures to watch. The announcement at the beginning of the third week stated that the assignment would require significantly more work. I already felt overly stretch as it was with the time I spent in the first two weeks, so I knew upon reading that message that I would not finish the course.
R is learned through experimentation. You try a function to see if it gives you the desired result, tweak it, rerun it, tweak it rerun it, ad infinitum. I had a bare-bones understanding of how R works conceptually, so it was a struggle to figure out where my programming was going awry. The community forums were wonderful with detailed information to set you on the right track. But nothing replaces the experience of working with R yourself.
Moving forward, I am going to use the videos from this MOOC to guide my research. I’m going to rely on experiential learning or project-based learning to finally gain a working knowledge of R. I may have failed to complete the course, but I feel I have obtained what I needed from this MOOC.