Archive by Author

Making technology work in the classroom

Tufts professor Dan Drezner has grown wary of using technology in the classroom. I get it. Like Dan, I’ve also come to see laptops as a big distraction to students and their neighbors. And I hate the “Facebook face”. You know, the one where the student has this awkward smile that is about 30 seconds behind anything remotely funny that I might have said. Or worse, the silent chuckle sparked by a stupid GIF or text sent by a friend that happens to coincide with me talking about some depressing statistic about the state of the world.
I’ve considered banning laptops like Dan has, but this seems like a decree that I would have hated as a student. So I’ve resisted this nuclear option in favor of restructuring my classes to get students to look up from their screens. I won’t claim victory, but I’ve been encouraged by the results. Here’s what I’ve tried in my Global Health Research course.

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Students go on to do fun things

As a new faculty member, it’s been fun to mentor students and see where life takes them. So far Ishan the fact checker takes the prize for most interesting (starting at 4:40):


Exporting from R to Excel with Conditional Formatting

It’s often the case that I want to share preliminary results with colleagues and have them provide feedback. This is pretty easy to do as a pdf using RStudio and a bit of LaTeX or markdown. And it’s now easy to turn my notes and results into a webpage via RStudio and tools like RPubs.
But sometimes I need others to comb through pages of results like factor loadings, and these output formats don’t cut it. In these cases, I export to Excel using the xlsx package so everyone can sort, make notes, highlight cells, etc.
This works really well, but I had a case recently where I needed a team of people to review 20+ sheets of factor loadings and comment on possible structures and interpretations. It’s common to start with some cutoff for factor loadings (x), often abs(x)>=0.30, so conditional formatting in Excel is a nice way to visualize patterns.


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Records for Life


In June 2013, the Gates Foundation announced an interesting idea for a competition: to remake the child health record. How great?! A contest that blended global health delivery, health information systems, design thinking, and a bit of tech.
The Records for Life contest (pdf) was open to anyone, even students, so we put out a call to Duke global health undergrads. Over the course of a few weeks in October, we established a core team and got to work.

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Reproducible Research with Word?

Kieran Healy’s post describing his manuscript preparation workflow inspired me to write up some notes about how I approach some of the same challenges. Namely, other people.
Healy’s summary is required reading for what follows. But I warn you, if you are still reading my words, his site will consume your attention for a few hours. Don’t blame me when you are fiddling with his templates rather than doing your actual work.

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