Some writers and technology journalists would have you believe that Google Docs and iWorks are the tools needed to fulfill the needs of any student or business. To a varying degree, that could be right. As a journalist, writers typically don’t deal in Macros or the most complex nature of data analysis spreadsheets. To be honest, many non-tech journalist hardly live in Excel either.
However, there comes a time when the ‘basics’ should be learned and or continually taught. Basics, like algebra, history, and writing should always be taught, no matter how trivial their existence seems outside of academia. Knowing these basic principles help to ensure as a society; we don’t lose the ability to function if particular facets of life we take for granted are ever in jeopardy.
As time goes on, more and more data and analysis is being ported to a connected cloud infrastructure that is then tethered together with apps. There are fewer people who understand the setup process it takes to get computation from big data. Assistant professor at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Felienne Hermans, would like to address this trend.
Hermans recounts, “I noticed the whole world is run by Excel. A manager at a big Dutch bank once told me, ‘If email goes down, that will be uncomfortable, but if Excel stops working, we’ll all go home.’ Excel is so omnipresent in business, yet, we at the university do not help students become proficient in the application.” This subtle revelation along with some more anecdotal experiences got Hermans to question whether or not a course, dedicated entirely to teaching the ins and outs of Excel, was that “far-stretching”?
Many of Hermans students were already having difficulty working with and in Excel. The students she describes in her anecdotes about Excel are not junior high or high school level students, but graduating college students in architecture and biology degree programs. “For example, I was recently visited by a student from the Architecture department. For his graduation project, he was supposed to create a spreadsheet calculating the impact of different building styles. The model was not the problem, he told me, but rather he needed to know how to build the spreadsheet and ensure the calculations were correct. He needed my help,“ explained Hermans.
Soon after, Hermans began a pitch for the necessity of teaching Excel as a university-wide elective. In her initial run, she was met with resistance to the idea, of needing a stand-alone course for Excel. However, Hermans and the university quickly saw that once the course was up and running, the demand for future courses would become a reality. Herman’s little Excel program saw success among students from various career-oriented vertices. Hemans wanted to develop the Excel program beyond just having 50 students take it at a time. She saw an opportunity for combining Harvard and MIT’s non-profit organization, edX and massive open online course provider (MOOSC), to help her reach a much broader audience for an Excel course.
Harmans Excel course is an 8-week course consisting of freshly updated videos, associated quizzes, excercises on Excel, and related information. The immediacy of the distributed information between Hermans and students is “like having a little teacher in your computer, phone or tablet,” she says. The course titled Data Analysis to the Max, already has over 17,000 people enrolled across the world. That’s a good sign. Another piece of good news is that the course starts tomorrow and is still open for serious Excel users or just curious Excel-types.