Behavioural Science: Man Behaving Curiously, part two: Challenging ascents and a sense of achievement

By John McGurk, currently on sabbatical from the CIPD

Proper teaching started on the 10th of September It has been a full‐on, roller-coaster learning experience since then. We started off with probably the most challenging learning experience any of us have experienced. Getting our heads round 'R' (open source statistical software) which is at the heart of data science, analysis and insight for the HR profession. It’s a unique opportunity for many of us to learn statistics afresh from basic frequencies to advanced regression, but it is accompanied by the stringent learning curve of having to write your own code as a novice.

I remember learning how to use SPSS, (statistics software) at Glasgow as an undergraduate in the 1990s and trying to programme rosters in my railway days using my Amstrad 9215. Coding is an unforgiving but precise form of expression. Syntax's hold a great importance however if you drop a comma, fail to insert a brace and put an ellipsis in the wrong place the computer will fail to perform. Even now with R supported by a great teaching approach and a connected community of contributors and fellow learners, it can be deeply frustrating.

The joy of getting it right is exciting though! Six weeks since knowing only how to push buttons in SPSS I now understand a huge amount more about statistics and R. But key to our learning is the support of the group. We all set up a What’s App group on induction day and have been using it to connect our learning and to arrange social activities ever since. Learning R, doing assignments together, coaxing each other towards the answers all at the end of a ping. This made our learning experience deeply social and collaborative. It’s also important to relax and take time out form an intense period of study. So meals out, comedy, theatre, and classical concerts are all taking place. 

Top of the social calendar was a walk led by our flinty, mountaineering course director up the hill which overlooks the campus. It’s always tempting to use a hill walk as a metaphor for learning and other life experiences and I won’t veer off that well‐ trodden path! Ben Dumyat is a path loved by Stirling locals - and since the University opened in the Sixties. It was a very easy‐going stroll initially around the beautiful parklands.  As we settled into the walk, it started getting a bit serious when we walked through the Airthrey forest and when we started to climb the hill, I haven’t climbed a hill properly since a breathless but beautiful ascent of the Brecon Beacons around 2001. The weather on this day was atrocious with driving rain and sleet shrouding the summit in Scotch mist. At that point I was wondering whether I would have been better off, if I missed the whole trip! But I persevered and we all made it up and back down. 

The Stirling Management School approach on statistics and data science is to help everyone up the steep learning summit this undoubtedly is. To support all of the students with expert guidance and navigation. It’s also a core course requirement to test regularly. Committed teachers who respond almost instantly, ensure that we all keep learning. From clueless and anxious we have started to get into our stride, we do stumble and sometimes when we are making steady progress, we see another forbidding ascent, but we keep going and it’s got us to here.

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