(541) Understanding Spreadsheets

To begin my blog post I must write a brief disclaimer to let you, the reader, know that I am by no means an expert on spreadsheets.  In fact, spreadsheets is the one application that I have yet to master, or even face my fear and use in any important capacity other than creating my Christmas list.  Let me be clear though, even though I am a self-proclaimed novice, I see purpose in using spreadsheets and the relative advantages of using spreadsheets are vast.

I recently read a news article where a gentleman kept and updated an extensive spreadsheet to keep basketball statistics.  He used this data to correctly predict that a no-name college basketball player from Harvard would be drafted into the NBA and ultimately would become an overnight sensation.  Ed Wieland correctly predicted that Jeremy Lin would become famous and he (and his spreadsheet) was correct.

Are spreadsheets important? Absolutely.  This application provides increased productivity when handling a mass of data.  Many businesses rely on spreadsheets as a way of displaying important information which in turn can be used to analyze and share such data in the form of a chart or graph.  Within the spreadsheet, tools allow the user to perform a spectrum of operations such as simple arithmetic to statistical functions.  The worksheet can be manipulated in order to input data, perform mathematical operations and get immediate outcomes used to analyze.

While businesses utilize spreadsheets in many departments, educational institutions can be found using such format in order to keep track of such things as grades/scores and attendance amongst others. Roblyer and Cohen (2010) list some of the many benefits for both teachers and students:

Saves time: Heavy mathematical equations can be calculated quickly and when data is updated, so are the calculations.

Organizes information: Not only can data be organized but other information that does not have to deal with numbers can be arranged and organized that it is easy on the eyes and helps the teachers and students find information quickly.  Attendance lists are an example of this.  Spreadsheets can list this alphabetically.

“What-if’s:” Spreadsheets allow users to make and view immediate changes.  This can be helpful for students who are curious about what their grade would look like by turning in and receiving a certain grade.  The spreadsheet can help visualize such changes and the very fact that the teacher can “play” with the numbers helps the students in their quest for success.

This week Professor Gerstein challenged us as Graduate students to consider how we would incorporate spreadsheets into our classrooms or place of work.  I decided that using spreadsheets to explain the Human Development Index would be a great idea.  After sharing my idea in the class forum, I am feeling excited at the prospect of introducing such an activity whereby students will find the data, fill in the spreadsheet and then use it to analyze the information in order to compare and contrast various European countries against America.  I also like the idea about turning the data into applicable graphs that further illustrates the comparisons and differences.

Intrigued, I found a handful of websites that give useful tips and add to the positive notion that spreadsheets are advantageous in the classroom:

http://www.bized.co.uk/learn/sheets/sheet_guide.htm

http://nrimp.dfw.state.or.us/nrimp/feature/2003/12-2003.htm

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/excel/microsoft-office-excel-2007-top-10-benefits-HA010164179.aspx

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/ict/modelling/0spreadsheetsrev3.shtml

http://archive.ite.journal.informs.org/Vol1No1/Evans/

Resources:

Doering, A.H. & Roblyer, M. D. (2010). Integrating educational technology into teaching. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.

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