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R workshop for ecologists

QCIF joined forces with EcoCommons and the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) in late April to deliver training on software language R for a new generation of ecologists. 

The workshop followed a call from a user survey conducted by EcoCommons, an Australian platform being built for ecological and environmental modelling, to provide more digital literacy to early career researchers and students. 

The workshop was successfully delivered online across 28–29 April using The Carpentries training format powered by EcoCommons training initiative EcoEd

More than 112 respondents, mainly Australian university researchers, expressed interest in the workshop, filling all 28 available spots. This was the first training module delivered by EcoCommons, which introduced participants to R programming and the basic functions needed to analyse ecological data.* 

As Carpentries instructors, QCIF’s Griffith University-based eResearch Analyst Amanda Miotto and University of Southern Queensland researcher Dr Paul Melloy coded live with participants coding along. 

“This workshop offered researchers the skills to really get the most out of their data, with EcoCommons as an amazing resource to leverage this,” said Amanda. “It is important to upskill researchers with knowledge of data science languages, such as R, so they are empowered to accelerate the amazing discoveries and inventions Australia is known for.”

Dr Jenna Wraith, EcoCommons’ Business and Scientific Analyst, said: “An increasing number of journals and funding agencies expect high-quality results and reproducible analyses across much larger-scale questions. This leads ecologists to move from pen and Excel spreadsheets, to using tools capable of working with increasingly large data sets and using complex algorithms with workflows that can be shared.

“Ecologists learning the R language discover a free open-source platform that enables them to use the tools needed to conduct the powerful statistical analyses capable of producing high-quality graphics required for today’s complex ecological questions.”

A highlight of the course was the introduction of galah, an R package for retrieving biodiversity data hosted by ALA. Galah enables users to locate and download species observations, taxonomic information, or associated media, such as images or sounds. 

Matilda Stevenson, a joint Data Analyst for ALA and EcoCommons, who was instrumental in building galah, introduced galah to workshop participants.

The EcoCommons, QCIF and ALA R workshop was also facilitated by Dr Jenna Wraith, EcoCommons Support and Training Officer Emilia Decker, and Dr Stephane Guillou, a Carpentries instructor from The University of Queensland Library. 

Program Manager Dr Elisa Bayraktarov, who attended the workshop and represents the EcoCommons platform, encouraged all participants to return to EcoCommons and use their newly acquired R programming skills when the platform opens up for user testing in late September 2021. 

“We received positive feedback from participants and demand from respondents of the survey. We are likely to run the EcoEd’s R training module again in the near future. For anyone interested in future workshops, keep an eye on the EcoCommons webpage or the twitter handle @EcoCommonsAus,” said Elisa. 

Researchers, educators, decision-makers and students in the field of ecology and environmental science can follow the journey of EcoCommons by signing up for its newsletter and requesting to be one of the first to explore and test the new platform.  

EcoCommons is a partnership of nine institutions including NCRIS-funded Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), CEBRA at the University of Melbourne, CSIRO’s Land and Water unit, Griffith UniversityMacquarie University, QCIF, TERN, and the University of NSW. It also involves investment from the Queensland Government’s Research Infrastructure Co-investment Fund (RICF).

The partnership is working to build the EcoCommons platform, with the aim to significantly reduce the time needed to journey from data to decisions.

* Please note QCIF also provides R training courses for researchers across various research domains with beginner, intermediate or advanced R experience.