Flexibility of implementation
Spreadsheet programs may be used in a surprising variety of applications to analyze data and explore models. Teaching with spreadsheets engages students actively in the learning process by taking advantage of capabilities to visualize information and employ data to answer a variety of questions.
Spreadsheet programs are flexible platforms that can be used to enhance learning in a full range of settings, from straight lectures to laboratory sessions. SERC presents a number of teaching techniques in which spreadsheets can support or enhance the pedagogy. See description of modules that use data, modeling or simulations.
Enhance preparation or presentationSpreadsheets may be used by instructors to create charts, three-dimensional graphics and numerical examples for use in class. They may also be used to input and analyze data gathered by students in projects.
Problem sets and homework
Spreadsheet exercises may be required as part of out-of-class exercises. In this setting, spreadsheets can be used to reduce the number of tedious calculations, handle large data sets, or explore models more thoroughly than can be accomplished in the classroom. It is especially important that instructions are clear in this type of assignment. Homework assignments may also be used as a just-in-time teaching technique as a way to prepare students for lecture by requiring students to gather and analyze data before concepts are fully discussed in class.
Laboratory sessionsIf the instructor can require students to bring laptops or has access to a computer laboratory, students can work either individually or collaboratively. Laboratory sessions may be classroom experiments, stand-alone assignments or a work as a springboard to get students started on a project that will be completed outside of class time. Students may be given different models or data to work with and results pooled (as in jigsaw assignments) allowing for a guided discovery approach to learning.
There are certainly some challenges associated with allowing students to use computers in the classroom. Students may use computers for non-class purposes or to look up information that may undermine the assignment. However, with the use of specialized technologies, carefully constructed assignments, and appropriate classroom management, these problems can usually be handled.