Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 2:00 PM
DOES EXCEL AFFECT LEARNING: ASSESSMENT OF SPREADSHEET-BASED MODULES IN A PHYSICAL GEOLOGY COURSE
Spreadsheets have been used for teaching math concepts for years. However, when students at USF began using spreadsheet-based modules to learn math and geology concepts they found them difficult to use. The problem most often mentioned was that learning how to use Excel took precedence over learning the concepts presented in the modules. We began to wonder if the Excel was getting in the way. To investigate this question, we placed students in Physical Geology courses into two groups: one group was given a set of modules that instructed them to use Excel for all calculations; the other group was told only to complete the calculations but was not told what method to use. We expected that students in the Non-Excel group would be less frustrated and thus attain a deeper learning of the concepts presented in the modules. However, the results of our study show that students had high gains for both the math and geology concepts presented in the modules whether Excel was used or not. The only difference in gains we observed was that students in the course led by the author of the modules had larger gains in knowledge versus those in the course led by another instructor. Students’ attitudes about the modules and the knowledge they gained were also tested and found that overall students were comfortable with the math and geology concepts presented in the modules, and most felt that the modules were worth their time, but they did not wish to complete any additional modules. We believe that spreadsheet-based modules are a good tool for teaching math and geology concepts and that the use of Excel within the module does not affect the learning outcomes. Overall the students were confident in their new knowledge but did not wish to do any more modules, which may harken back to issues with math avoidance. We also found that the largest effect on the success of these modules lies in the teaching style and/or proximity to the author of the modules.