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Peer Review

Microsoft Excel as a Visual [Basic] Teaching and Learning Tool

by Thomas Mitchell


Overall Numeric Rating:

4.5 stars
Content Quality: 4.75 stars
Effectiveness: 4.5 stars
Ease of Use: 4.5 stars
Reviewed: Jan 16, 2013 by Business Editorial Board
Overview: This site shows how visual basic tools in Microsoft Excel can be used to create interactive simulations referred to as excelets. The material includes nine different modules. The author promotes Excel as a tool for creating simulations and interactivity for several key reasons: 1) most institutions are Microsoft campuses with student access to Excel; 3) many campus computers do not have plug-ins to run Flash objects such as Macromedias Flash; and 4) many instructors do not have capability to produce Flash objects. The author asserts that when he began producing the interactive modules he basically started from scratch as his Excel capabilities were very rudimentary. The site provides an opportunity for instructor/students to open up the modules and begin interacting to practice and experiment with “what if” scenarios and questions to manipulate the data and cell formulas to enhance discovery learning and problem solving.
Type of Material: Interactive simulation
Recommended Uses: The modules allow students to complete a variety of sophisticated mathematical problems, and instructors can vary the required level of math behind the computations. By varying the level of transparency, not only can an instructor allow students to interact with the models that may be too mathematically rigorous for them, but may creatively employ a discovery approach to learning as students explore the properties of the model or data. The modules can be easily integrated into classroom lectures and activities. Modules can be used as class assignments or homework before or after the topics are discussed in class to peak the interest of students. Other uses can be activities in the computer lab, class demonstration, enrichment or mediation tool.
Technical Requirements: Internet Explorer 8 or the equivalent Firefox browser and Microsoft Excel will suffice.
Identify Major Learning Goals: Instructors and students gain an understanding of some of what Microsoft Excel can offer as a programming environment for the creation of interactive teaching and learning tools. The database provides example applications of MS Excel files to resolve assignments in specific areas as identified in the description.
Target Student Population: Undergraduate and/or intermediate economics students.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Beginning Excel

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: • Provided clear examples of different spreadsheet formats to resolve specific problem types as described in module description • Concepts were clearly identified and the sub-module allowed the user to change the variables to better understand impact of changes in parameters. • Very good tutorial of the capabilities of MS Excel • Spreadsheets allow students to complete a variety of sophisticated mathematical problems, and instructors can vary the required level of student understanding of the mathematics behind the computations.
Concerns: • Was not clear what the scholarship was and what background was required. • Had no audio to explain what occurs as the parameters are changed or how the module and sub-modules could be employed most effectively • Sub-modules did not have an explanation of the concepts to be addressed by the sub-module

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4.5 stars
Strengths: • Could write assignments that required student to perform specified calculations give set parameters and then to summarize the results. • Sub-modules will reinforce the concepts of parameter change and demonstrate the effect for the student to learn from. • Students can experiment with the numbers and manipulate variables providing them the opportunity to predict, test, and analyze how variables influence data and graph the calculated parameters. • The spreadsheets allow students to learn the net effect of increasing or decreasing data, make predictions, create graphs, and analyze what happened and eventually describe the changes, if any, in sound mathematical language.
Concerns: • Concepts and learning objectives were not clearly defined • Sub-modules were independent and did not establish the theory and concepts to be addressed. • Noted the some of the sub-modules were annotated for use in economics class

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4.5 stars
Strengths: • Website was easy to connect to and easy to maneuver on the page • Was easy to view and the and selections were simple to identify • Each sub-module allowed the student to change the parameters to be able to determine the cause/effect of changes to the chart parameters. • These simulations can be easily integrated into classroom activities. Instructors can assign the simulations to students as class assignments or even as homework before discussing the topics rigorously in class. This type of learning grabs student attention by giving students control of the models that can generate more interest in the topic and ultimately retaining the material better. • Once students understand the mechanics of the spreadsheets by working through the simulations, instructors can spend more time in class discussing the economic principles underlying the models.
Concerns: • Charts in the sub-modules were not of high design quality and lacked a detailed explanation of the concepts to be addressed in each sub-module. • The appeal was neutral given that student was taken to an MS Excel spreadsheet from a tab in the table of Contents • Instructions for usage was basic, could not determine if all MS Excel versions would work with the sub-modules. No definitive statement about what versions of MS Excel would work with the sub-modules without incident.

Other Issues and Comments: This site shows some of what Microsoft Excel can offer as a programming environment for the creation of interactive teaching and learning tools. Very good learning tool for students that want to experience the effects of parameter changes.