Tips and cautions

Set aside time

Complex spreadsheet exercises often take considerable time to construct, and instructors should not underestimate this time commitment. Likewise, even simple laboratory assignments can take considerable time for students to complete.

Be aware of bugs and limitations

One critical issue is that some exercises may push spreadsheet programs beyond what they are designed to do. For example, some of the numerical methods used to solve systems of equations may depend on initial values chosen. Attempting to solve a complex problem when the spreadsheet is set up incorrectly or the initial value is too far from the true answer may result in the spreadsheet crashing. This is a good reason to test assignments ahead of time and distribute partially-completed spreadsheets for complex models.

Build skills over the semester

If students are going to construct their own spreadsheets, it may be helpful to slowly build skills over the semester. Early assignments should be basic, and more complicated operations can be added over time. As skills are repeated and reinforced the assignments become easier to complete and students retain more skills after the class is over.

Backup, and Save, Save, Save!

It is imperative that users save spreadsheets often. It is also good practice to save a special copy of a working model as a back-up before changes are made. It is straightforward to copy a worksheet or a group of linked worksheets and charts to preserve them in the same file.