Behind the Scenes of Rguroo: An Interview with One of Its Creators

Rguroo is a point-and-click statistical software that unleashes the power of R on the Cloud, making this powerful software available to instructors and students across the country.

This user-friendly software includes features such as:

  • Data cleaning & manipulation tools
  • Easy to use tools for creating & customizing plots
  • Interactive data visualization
  • Data modeling & statistical inference
  • Simulation suits & probability calculators

We chatted with one of Rguroo’s creators, Dr. Mori Jamshidian. Here’s what he had to say about his experience and this powerful yet easy-to-use software.

The following interview has been lightly edited for content and clarity.

Can you provide a little info about your teaching background?

I started teaching when I was a graduate student in the Math Department at UCLA in the mid- to late 1980s. After getting my Ph.D., I got a position as a senior statistician at BMDP statistical software. While at BMDP, however, I also taught statistics courses at UCLA as an adjunct professor. It was at the University of Central Florida Statistics Department (1996-2002) that I started my full-time teaching position. There, I began as an assistant professor, and in 2005 I got my tenure and was promoted to Associate Professor. From 2002 to the present, I have had a position at CSU Fullerton (CSUF). I am tenured and have the rank of Professor at CSUF. Throughout my teaching career, I have taught a variety of statistics courses ranging from introductory to upper-division and graduate-level courses, including both applied and theoretical subjects. My recent classes at the undergraduate level include Introductory Statistics and an Intermediate Data Analysis. At the graduate level, I have been teaching Probability Theory and Statistical Inference, Computational Statistics, and Statistical Consulting. I have also had an interest and have taught courses in numerical analysis. 

What led you to create Rguroo?

In 2010, I was appointed as the coordinator for our introductory statistics course at CSUF. When I started in this role, instructors were teaching their classes without using any software. I firmly believed and continue to believe that the use of statistical software is a must in teaching statistical concepts. So, my initial thought was to use R/Rstudio in the course. This thought led to the writing of a manuscript that showed how the R/Rstudio language could be used to make graphs and perform introductory-level statistical analyses. I wrote this manuscript with Mojgan Khatoonabadi (a colleague) and Cengage published it. It turned out that this manuscript was not much of a help, as our instructors spent much of their time in correcting the required codes for students (e.g.: students did not pay attention to capitalization, or they would forget to close parentheses, etc.). So, the use of R/Rstudio failed. Amidst this failure, and about six years ago, Shahram Zadeh, a good friend, and I were attending our mutual friend’s birthday party. There, Shahram approached me and asked if I thought that there was a project that we could do together. Knowing that Shahram was a veteran software engineer, I brought up the idea of creating a point-and-click interface on top of R. He added to this idea the possibility of creating a web application. These ideas led to the start of what we called “a fun project.” The next day, I wrote an R code to create a histogram, and Shahram took that code and did his software engineering thing, and the histogram that was created in R showed up in a browser. This turned out to be the inception of what we know today as Rguroo. Since then, the Rguroo team, Shahram, and I have been working tirelessly to develop Rguroo and make it better and better for teaching. We also hope that as we make progress in our development of Rguroo, it finds its way to the industry as well. 

Can you provide an example or two of how you’ve used Rguroo in your class?

I have used Rguroo in both my introductory statistics classes and my intermediate-level data analysis classes. In both levels, I have used Rguroo for exploratory data analyses using graphs and summary statistics, as well as conducting statistical inference and building regression models.  More notably, I have used Rguroo to teach statistical concepts using the powerful yet easy to use Rguroo simulation tools.

While the use of Rguroo does not require knowledge of the R language, users who know R can take advantage of this knowledge to conduct sophisticated analyses. For example, the R language can be used in Rguroo’s simulation functions or other functions such as the Transformation function. I have used this capability to teach my intermediate-level students some basics of the R language. For example, my students can write an R code within the Rguroo simulation tool to perform regression analysis using bootstrap.

What’s your favorite part of Rguroo? Do you have a favorite lesson plan to share?

I have lots of favorites, but to name one, I must say Rguroo’s reproducibility. By this, I mean that when we are doing a project, we can save it at any stage, logout,  and come back to continue where we left off. Or, we can export our projects as what are called “RGR files” and share them with other Rguroo users. This reproducibility comes in handy in my teaching in various ways. As students work in the lab and the lab hour ends, they can save their unfinished work and go home to finish their projects. As I teach in the classroom using Rguroo, I save what I input in Rguroo, and I export the work as RGR files to share with students for their review and as a supplement to their notes. Students can import RGR files into their Rguroo account and see what we did in class. Students also submit RGR files as part of their project, so when my grader or I grade their projects, we have access to how they generated a graph or conducted their analyses.

As for my favorite lesson plans, I have many. Dwight Wynne, a colleague at CSUF, and I have several lesson plans involving Rguroo that we use in our introductory and intermediate level courses, and we would be happy to share them.

How have your classes changed since implementing Rguroo? Have you noticed your students learn a particular concept more quickly or engage with topics more fully?

As I noted earlier, after the unsuccessful use of R in our introductory statistics courses, Rguroo has been a welcome change—a change that has made our courses more useful and fun for our students, as well as making my teaching easier. This is mainly attributed to the fact that we can use Rguroo to easily and quickly draw graphs, or compute a probability using a probability calculator, or do other computations. I spend the time that I save explaining statistical concepts better, interacting with students more, and doing more examples.

Another change that Rguroo has brought to my teaching: I use fewer PowerPoint notes. My teaching, for the most part, has become dynamic as we explore a dataset or conduct a test of hypothesis or build a regression model step by step with students. This mode of teaching allows students to follow and contribute ideas to each step taken in discovery and problem solving, hopefully leading to better understanding of what is being taught.

What, in your opinion, are the top differentiators between Rguroo and other statistics software packages on the market?

Its reproducibility, the fact that it’s designed by instructors for instructors, the rich data repository, and the ability to export reports to Word.

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