Teaching Statistics and Epidemiology with SAS Studio

In case you don’t know, SAS On-Demand is the FREE , as in free beer, offering of SAS for academic use. How good is it? There really can’t be one answer to that.

First of all, there are multiple options – SAS Studio, SAS Enterprise Miner, SAS Enterprise Guide, JMP, etc.  so some may be better than others.I have a fair bit of experience with two of them, so let’s just look at one of those today.

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SAS STUDIO

I mostly use SAS Studio with my students and over the past few courses I have been really pleased with the results. I selected SAS Studio over Enterprise Guide because I strongly believe it is useful for students to learn to code and many students, yes, even in an area like biostatistics need a little encouragement to learn. While they don’t end up expert SAS programmers after two or three courses, they at least can code a DATA step , read in raw data, aggregate data and data from external files, produce a variety of statistics and graphics and interpret the results.

Let’s be frank about this … it’s going to require a bit of work up front. You need to create a course with SAS On-Demand. You need to notify your students that they need to create accounts. If you are not going to use solely the sashelp directory data sets, you’re going to have to upload your own data.

Please don’t tell me you plan on solely using the sashelp data sets! These are really helpful for the first assignment or two while students get their feet wet but unless you expect your students to have careers where all of their files to be analyzed are going to be shipped with the software they use, you’re going to move to reading in other types of data sooner or later.

Your data are going to be stored on the SAS server (so you can tell people who ask that yes, you are ‘computing in the cloud’ – instead of what I usually tell people who ask stupid questions like that, which is shut the hell up and quit bothering me – but I digress. Even more than usual.)

No matter what software you use, you’re going to have to select some data sets for students to analyze, have some sort of codebook and make sure your data is reasonably clean (but not so clean that students won’t learn something about data quality problems). So, the only real additional time is figuring out how to get it on the SAS server.

None of these steps take much time, but adding them all up – getting a SAS profile, creating a course, creating an email to send to all of your students, with the correct LIBNAME, uploading your data – it all maybe adds up to a couple of extra hours.

My challenge always is how I shoehorn additional content into the very limited class time I have with students. One tool I’ve been using lately is livebinders. This is an application that lets you put together an online binder of web pages, videos and material you write yourself.

Here is an example of a livebinder I use for my graduate course in epidemiology. It has SAS assignments beginning with simply copying code to modifying it . Links to the relevant SAS documentation are included, as are videos that show step by step how to use SAS Studio for computing relative risk, population attributable risk, etc. I have a similar livebinder for my biostatistics course.

You might think this is a bit of hand-holding to walk the students through it, but I would disagree. Every time I have found myself thinking,

“Well, this is a little too easy”,

I have been wrong.

If you have been doing something for a decade or, in my case, a few decades, it’s hard to remember how confusing concepts were the very first time. Even things that you do automatically, like downloading your results as an HTML file, were a mystery at one time in your life. Making the videos takes some time initially – you have to do a screencast, and then the voice over. Sometimes I do them at once, using QuickTime and GarageBand simultaneously. Other times, I import the screencast into iMovie and record a voiceover.

Either way, a 7-minute video usually takes me half an hour to record, when you add in screwing up the first time, editing out the part where The Spoiled One came in and asked for money to go shopping, etc. So, you’re adding maybe 3-4 hours to the time you spend on your course. On the other hand, you only have to do it once, so, if you teach the same course a few times, it pays off. I cannot tell you how many times students tell me that the videos were helpful. Unlike when I am lecturing in class, they can slow the video down, play it over.Students end the course with experience coding, using data from actual studies and interpreting data to answer problems that matter.

My point is, that it is a little more work to teach using SAS Studio, but it is worth it.

 

 

 

 

local_offerevent_note March 8, 2015

account_box AnnMaria De Mars

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