Researchers in developing countries often cannot afford to purchase commercial software and consequently end up using illegal copies. R is free but difficult for the beginner.
The 'epicalc' package was first created in 2002 to mimic many epidemiological functions of a commercial statistical software and to make R easier to use for beginners. Many of the functions produce automatic graphs, helping users to visualize their data instantly and enable students to learn the concept of epidemiological cross-tabulations. Epicalc also reduces the complications of data management inherit in R. A set of epicalc functions produce output from analysis in a format ready to put in the table of a manuscript.
Despite the power of R and the diversity of all the user-contributed packages, teaching R to non-statistics students is not easy. Allowing students to quickly produce and enjoy output ready to place into their presentations or manuscripts can stimulate them to learn. More fundamental but complex concepts, such as the nature of R objects and its environment, can be taught later.
Most R beginners need a tutor to overcome the initial problems associated with the command syntax. For people in low-income countries, learning R through the Internet may be the only affordable choice. Our online teaching modules have been developed and used since 2006. Around 20-30 students in each of our 8 rounds have completed the 9-week courses by downloading the self-studying modules, participating in the discussion forums, and submitting the weekly assignments.
In conclusion, using R can help overcome the financial barrier for those living in low-income countries and using the Internet, geographic barriers to statistics education can also be surmounted.
Keywords: Teaching R; epicalc; Free internet course; Developing countries
Biography: I am an epidemiologisit teaching Master and PhD research students. I wrote 'epicalc' package and have been using it in teaching and research. My colleague (Mr Edward McNeil) and I have run a free Internet course “Do-It-Yourself: Essential Epidemiological Data Analaysis using R and Epicalc” teaching participants around the world since 2006.