• Dave Foord
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Using Excel and Office 365 to create learning activities

In my previous posts I have:

  1. Introduced the idea of Office 365 and how it can be used to create collaborative activities.
  2. Given an example of how PowerPoint can be used to create a collaborative activity.

In this post I am going to look at using Excel to create a collaborative learning activity.

Many people struggle (some are scared of it) with Excel which is a shame as it can be a superbly powerful learning tool – and it can be used in any teaching area not just maths, accountancy etc. There are many possible uses that I could list here, but I will stick with a couple of simple examples.

If I was teaching research methods or statistics, and wanted to investigate the idea of 2 sets of data and what the correlation is between them, then a simple way to do this is for each student to work out their height (m) and their shoe size (European) record these in a table, then everyone plots a scatter graph of everyones results – and we look at the line of best fit, standard deviation etc. Yes the constructing of a graph on paper with a ruler is an important skill to learn, but on this occasion I want to focus on the way that the correlation changes as more points are recorded, and for that I want to speed up the plotting process, so I am going to use Excel to help me.

Image of an excel sheet with a data entry table on the left, and the resultant grpah on the right

Example of an excel sheet teaching the principle of data correlation

So I have created  a simple spreadsheet which has a data entry table – I have identified each student with the letters A-K, and I have colour coded the area they need to enter their data into with a green shading. I have unlocked these cells and then protected the whole sheet, so when the learners add their data, they cannot accidentally alter or delete any of the workings. On the right you will notice that I have pre-created a graph that will plot the data as it is added, and then underneath the table I have created some simple statistical functions to identify mean, mode, median etc of the data as it is entered.

So having created the above sheet, all I need to do is save it to my OneDrive (new name for SkyDrive) – share it with my learners (see previous post), and then allocate each learner a letter between A-K. They edit the sheet in the web browser, entering the 2 pieces of information against their letter. All of the students will be editing the same resource at the same time, so they will see the graph and the numbers change in real time as the amount of data added grows. The beauty of this is that by speeding up the capturing and plotting process, I can spend more time helping the students to understand the significance of what the graph and the numbers mean, and I could reuse the same template to add my own dummy data to show the effect of anomalies, different types of correlation etc.

Any form of class experiment which involves the capturing and sharing of class data can be achieved with this method. If the data entry is more complex than my example, then you could create a sheet within the workbook for one student, then duplicate this lots of times so each student has their own sheet.

Another useful feature is that it is possible to embed sections of the file (e.g. the results table, or the final chart) back into a piece of web space (e.g. the VLE, or a blog) – so below is an example of the final chart – as the file is used and data is entered this will automatically update.


With the above example all students could see (and potentially alter) all other student’s entries into the resource. This may not be desirable – e.g. if you are capturing sensitive data (e.g. if working out Body Mass Index and asking students for their Weight and Height) or you could ask students to feedback what they have learnt, what they have found difficult, what they would like to recover in a revision session etc.

What you could do is create a single Excel file asking for the data that you want. Once happy with this, you duplicate that file however many times you have students. You then share each file with the individual student. This may sound complex but is a lot easier and quicker than you would imagine. You now have a mechanism for students to give individual feedback to you – you as the teacher can see all of the files, so easy for you to see the information – and if you are really keen, then you could create an ‘overview file’ which uses simple excel formula to pull the data from each students file into a single dashboard type file. This last suggestion doesn’t update the data live as it is entered, but everytime that the file is opened it will pull through the latest data at that point.

If we are using Excel to create learning objects then it is beneficial to make the appearance of the file as tidy and uncluttered as possible – which I have discussed in a previous blog post – https://davefoord.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/simple-formatting-tips-in-excel-to-improve-quality-of-learning-materials/

In my next post in this series I will give an example of using Word to create a collaborative activity.

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Using PowerPoint and Office 365 to create a collaborative learning activity

In my last blog post, I explained a simplification of how Office 365 and One Drive (formerly known as SkyDrive) work together to make collaborative learning activities possible. In this post I will give an example of how and why PowerPoint can be used for such an activity.

One of the programmes that I provide training for is the ITQ for Accessible IT practice as part of this programme I have adapted an activity where the attendees collaboratively discover accessibility features of Microsoft Windows that many don’t know about. To create the activity I have set up a simple PowerPoint presentation as follows:

Example of a PowerPoint Template for a collaborative activity

Example of a PowerPoint Template for a collaborative activity

Basically I have a list of different accessibility features that I want the attendees to research, and for each one they have to summarise what the feature is and how it could be useful from an accessibility perspective. All I have done is created a simple slide within PowerPoint with 2 text boxes – 1 for each question. I then duplicate the slide numerous time and all I have to do is change the title of the slide to each of the accessibility features.

Looking at the left side of the image you will see 3 such slides of this nature, and you will notice that on this occasion I completed the first one as an example. All I have to do now is make a copy of this file (so that I have a clean master for next year) and to share this activity with my students (which I will explain later), allocate a topic (e.g. slide number) to each student and away we go. An old pack of cards is a useful way of randomly allocating a topic to each person.

The advantage of this activity for me is it is very quick to set up – once I have thought about what questions I am asking and how much space on the screen I want to allocate them, it is very easy to create the actual mechanism. When using this in class – all the attendees are editing the same document at the same time, so I can view that document and see what is going on – this means that I can see what people are doing, helping them if necessary, without having to walk around and look over their shoulders, it also means that if I had a student at home for example they could also partake in this activity either in real time or later on. If a student is doing something really good, I can pause the activity and show their slide on the screen and point out the key points, without having to mess with screen sharing, transferring files etc.

After a period of time I may stop the activity and ask people to then look at a different slide and edit what the previous person has done or to look at the points and identify the most important etc. At the end of the session, each person can take their own local copy of the file which may be useful to them as part of an assignment.

The beauty of this technique especially if using it at the start of a topic, is students get to see other students points of view – which can help when constructing an assignment to use other peoples opinions and not just ones own.

I mentioned earlier about sharing the file – there are different ways that I can do this, the easiest is to share a link as follows:

image showing how to share a link using Skydrive, Select Share, Get a Link, Shorten Link

Sharing a link using OneDrive

  1. On OneDrive, choose the ‘Share’ menu
  2. On the left you could invite people if you know who they are, or you can get a link
  3. There will be an option of whether they can ‘Edit’ or ‘View’ – choose ‘Edit’
  4. If using the get a link option, you can copy the link as is, and email it to students or add to the VLE. or you can shorten the link and put it onto the board for students to type in manually or convert to a QR code.
  5. At the end of the session I may revert the sharing settings back to view rather than edit, so students can view what has been completed but cannot continue editing it (in case they try to be funny and write rude things about me or other students in the document!).

In my next post I will give an example of how Excel can be used to create a collaborative activity.