Creating Interactive Web Apps for Statistics

Dr. Maria Tackett shares her experience in leading a virtual research team over the summer. 

This summer I’m working with four undergraduate students, Joe Choo, Abbey List, Glen Morgenstern, and Samantha Owusu-Anti, and project manager Aupriya Sivukumar (Duke class of 2019), to develop interactive web apps to explore concepts that are often challenging in intro- and intermediate-level statistics courses. My work focuses on understanding ways technology can enhance student learning, so this is a project I’ve been thinking about for a while. The decision to launch the project this summer was motivated, in part, by the chance to try new approaches as we prepare for hybrid and flexible learning in the fall. It also was an opportunity to facilitate a virtual summer project experience for students after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many summer internship and research plans.

On the first day we shared our goals for the project and what we hoped to achieve over the next six-weeks. This discussion made me even more excited about the project than before, as each student shared thoughtful and clear goals about developing new skills and how they hoped to positively impact students’ learning experiences with their apps.  Since then, they have each worked on creating an app from start to finish, beginning with refining the app’s topic and learning objectives, to sketching the design, and now using R Shiny to write the code to build the app. In just a few weeks, they have made significant progress towards creating this new set of interactive learning tools. At the same time, they are developing new coding skills, learning how to effectively communicate statistical concepts to new learners, and learning how to collaborate with a team working remotely.

The pandemic has made us rethink many aspects of higher education, including how to facilitate virtual undergraduate summer experiences. One challenge of virtual programs is maintaining the collaborative nature of the in-person experience, so we have tried to establish a communication structure to allow the team to interact regularly though we are working across multiple time zones. We meet 2 - 3 times per week on Zoom to share updates, exchange ideas, and do short coding workshops. Outside of meetings, we use Slack, a communication platform that makes it easy to ask questions and share information throughout the day.

Working with Joe, Abbey, Glen, Samantha, and Anupriya has made me excited about what is possible as we consider virtual undergraduate summer experiences in the future.Their motivation, focus, creativity, and intellect has been inspiring as they have developed their apps and have quickly adapted to the virtual format. I look forward to working with them over the next few weeks as we continue to explore how technology can help us work, collaborate, and learn in new ways.