Using R in Myanmar (and other low-bandwidth environments)

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R is already in use in well over 100 cities around the world, and now we can add another to the list: Yangon, Myanmar. Ben Marwick is a trainer with Software Carpentry (a non-profit organization devoted to improving basic computing skills among researchers in science, engineering, medicine, and other disciplines), and last month he visited the University of Yangon to teach 23 archaeologists how to use R.


Software Carpentry maintains a number of useful resources for teaching R, and Ben began with the “Programming in R” tutorial to get the students familiar with the R command line. The Data Carpentry Lessons in R provided further depth around creating data frames, and analyzing and plotting data.

Despite the recent democratic reforms, reliable internet access appears to still be a challenge in parts of Myanmar, so Ben had to improvise to get all the students up and running with R during the workshop. Rather than downloading R, he provided USB sticks for the students to install it directly onto their PCs. For the graphics portion of the workshop, Scott wanted to use the ggplot2 package, which has 18 dependencies:


Getting all those dependencies installed via the Web wasn't a practical option so Scott used the miniCRAN package to bundle all of the needed packages and dependencies, which could then be easily installed via the USB sticks. Said Ben:

Had the entire class attempted to get the packages in the usual way, from an online CRAN mirror, we'd probably still be there waiting for the downloads to finish. Although there are no doubt other solutions, I highly recommend local repositories with miniCRAN to anyone going in to a similar situation of needing to use contributed packages with limited (or no) internet access.

You can read all of Ben's stories about teaching R in Myanmar at the link below.

Software Carpentry: Teaching in Yangon

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