With news of the lockdown in March came the dawning reality that we wouldn’t be able to deliver our usual HealthyR 2.5 day quick start course in May.
The course is always over-subscribed so we were keen to find a solution rather than cancelling altogether.
HealthyR teaches the Notebook format which is already an online tool hosted by RStudio Cloud – so we knew that bit would work online. But what to do about getting attendees and tutors online, delivering lectures and offering interactive support with coding? Could we recreate our usual classroom environment online?
Never a group to shy away from a technical challenge, and with expertise in online education, we set about researching what online tools could be used.
After trying various options we went with Blackboard Collaborate to provide an online classroom, together with our usual RStudio Cloud to provide the Notebooks interface. Collaborate has a really nice feature of ‘break-out rooms’ where small groups can be assigned a separate online room with a tutor to work through exercises. The tutor can provide support and answer questions, using the screen share option to see exactly what each person might be having difficulty with.
After a few rehearsals to work out what roles to assign all our moderators and attendees, how to send people to the break rooms and recall them back to the main room we were set!
Ahead of the course, attendees were emailed the usual pre-course materials and a log in for their RStudio Cloud accounts, together with an invite to a Collaborate session for each of the 3 days. We split the 20 attendees who had confirmed attendance into groups of 5 and assigned one of our fantastic tutors to each group.
We also set up a an extra break out room with a dedicated tutor which could be used for anyone needing specific one-to-one help.
After the ice-breaker, ‘What’s a new thing you’ve done since lockdown?’ – everything from macrame to margaritas plus tie-dying and a lot of baking – the course got underway with the first lecture.
One or two delegates had some problems with internet connections, and the assigning of breakout rooms took a bit of getting used, but Riinu soon worked out an efficient system and the first coding exercises were underway!
We were delighted that the course received really positive feedback overall – none of us were sure this would work, but it did! The live coding sessions and pop quizzes were particularly popular.
We’ll definitely run HealthyR online again if the lockdown continues. Even after the lockdown, moving online widens access and offers the possibility for our international collaborators to join a course without having to travel.
Thank you to all our attendees who quickly adapted to the online format and to our amazing tutors, Tom, Kenny, Derek, Peter, Katie, Stephen, Michael and Ewen, who provided 3 days of their time to run the course, led as ever, by Riinu.
Collaborate and RStudio Cloud worked very well for me. The breakout rooms were a nice touch to allow discussions.
Clear and easy instructions. Worked seamlessly!
This was a great course. I think in person would have allowed more interaction so I would still keep your original format available after this lockdown is over but well done on adapting and providing an excellent course.
All the HealthyR resources, including our new online book, are available for free on the HealthyR website