Creative Commons: Jane Park, December 6th, 2010

“Holy database Batman!  We’ll never find all the names of the criminals in this mess.”  Since Batman doesn’t have a gadget on his belt to help him sort all this data, he should send his sidekick, Robin, to do some training with databases and spreadsheets, and then he can really make himself useful with hours and hours of data entry.

Even though Batman and Robin were able to save the world without a database back in the 1960’s, nowadays, the database has become so essential, that large sectors of society could not function without it.  Since the data base is so important to modern civilization, it certainly should have a decent amount of attention given to it in the educational realm. This can be taught in the form of spreadsheets and or databases.  However, as the title indicates, working with spreadsheets has an infinity of possibilities, but applying all the features to a creative mind can be just as taxing as trying to contemplate infinity itself.

Of course, databases are used in everyday technology tools such as electronic grade books, social networks, and cloud based data.  These are databases that have been built by someone else to compute specific outcomes.  Many times, these data bases have their own learning curve, and the features that you learn in these databases seem to rarely transfer to other databases.  Nonetheless, education should look for ways to integrate a standard education for spreadsheets and databases.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges in integrating the use of databases in general education relates to the lack of understanding and practice with the software tools.  Teachers in specialized fields of education such as business, economics, and mathematics, may spend an adequate amount of time using the software, but even though I consider myself tech savvy, I don’t spend enough time with spreadsheet software to be able to function efficiently.  My content area is English, so there are other software programs such as word processors and presentations that are used more because it allows for more language development.  Besides, they are generally easier to use for the teacher and the student.  Google Spreadsheets and Excel are considerably abstract applications, and they require a strong technology infrastructure to support mass education.   In addition, especially in my case, it is hard to justify a large amount of time in developing skills related to spreadsheet skills.

Spreadsheets are best used when there is a specific purpose to accomplish.  Teachers can scaffold their activities so that it includes spreadsheets and database driven products.  Students can connect data to visual representations, support student products related to data gathering, and create a databank for effective presentations (Robleyer, Doering, 2012).  Now that Google has introduced Google Forms with an extension to Google Spreadsheets, more interrelated data will be able to be gathered quickly and recalled according to the desired criteria.  This will be a very effective tool for practically all content areas.  However, the key question is still at large, “Who will be responsible for walking the students down that learning curve?”

Lastly, I do want to point out that the journey along the learning curve is worth it because it can make data collection and recall very efficient.  According to Robert Kugel of SVP Research, companies cannot afford the risk of having under-developed knowledge in workers who build databases or create reports.  He points out that many users consider themselves proficient, but they lack deeper knowledge of the application that can help increase efficiency of data.  However, the impact of poor data base structure can cause further ramifications, as noted:

For instance, if they do not know how to use the vlookup function, they may create a complicated nested “if” statement and copy it endlessly. With the power of today’s computers, the performance penalty for such misuse may be trivial, but poor spreadsheet design makes it much harder to update or expand the set of conditions droving that complex “if” function and creates the potential for inducing errors that may be almost impossible to spot. (Kugel, 2012)

References

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2012). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (6th ed.). Allyn & Bacon. (p. 125-127).
Kugel, R. (2012, July 13). Make Spreadsheet Competence a Priority. Ventana research. Retrieved October 5, 2012, from http://www.ventanaresearch.com/blog/commentblog.aspx?id=3234
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