Why Use Spreadsheets and Databases in the Classroom

February 20, 2010 at 3:02 am (ED TECH 541) (, , , , )

When someone uses the term spreadsheet or database, most people think about businesses; specifically how these electronic tools can enhance the day-to-day operations and effectiveness of employees. Or maybe you think of researchers collecting copious amounts of information and needing a way to track, store, and evaluate bits of information. However, these tools can be powerful instructional agents for students across the learning spectrum! In order to understand how these tools can be used in classrooms, we first have to understand what a spreadsheet is and what it can do, as well as how it differs from a database.

 Spreadsheets—In general terms, a spreadsheet is defined as a worksheet or table consisting of values organized in rows and columns. Over time, the term spreadsheet has grown to mean both a worksheet and the computer programs that are used to create worksheets. Spreadsheets allow us to automate formulas that would otherwise take hours to hand-calculate, while also including organizational display features that enhance how we share the numbers and data we are collecting.

 Databases—These electronic tools provide invaluable data collection and search options. Databases are not specifically classified along with productivity tools like spreadsheets, word processors, and so on, but, at the same time, they do indeed have the power to enhance productivity by simplifying and speeding up how we work. Using databases is essential for organizing large amounts of information and beginning to look for patterns or like characteristics in data to drive decision making, research, targeted responses, across a range of fields.

 Database or Spreadsheet?

As technology tools both spreadsheets and databases can be used to organize, sort, and report data. At the same time, they have some very important differences. In general terms, if you are looking for formulas and calculations or are using small, manageable amounts of data, then spreadsheets are for you. On the other hand, if you are looking to compare differing sets of data and need to sort and report bits and pieces in different combinations, or if you are working with large amounts of data, then a database is likely worth the time to learn to use and manage. Karyn Stille from QCI Solutions, Inc., provided the following simple breakdown of when one tool is better than the other.

” In a Nutshell Use a database if…

  • the information is a large amount that would become unmanageable in spreadsheet form and is related to a particular subject.
  • you want to maintain records for ongoing use.
  • the information is subject to many changes (change of address, pricing changes, etc.).
  • you want to generate reports based on the information.

Use a spreadsheet if…

  • you want to crunch numbers and perform automatic calculations.
  • you want to track a simple list of data.
  • you want to easily create charts and graphs of your data.
  • you want to create “What-if” scenarios.

In most cases, using the combination of a database to store your business records and a spreadsheet to analyze selected information works best.”

Relative Advantage for Using these Tools in the Classroom

When looking at using spreadsheets and databases in the classroom, the easy reasons center around a few key points.

  1. Real-life tools and situations—These are tools used in many walks of life, providing a real-life application of technology.
  2. Focusing learning on high-order thinking—Instead of focusing learning on calculations or organization, these tools focus learning on understanding and exploring data.
  3. Efficiency and consistency of learning activities—As educators, we can provide consistent, efficient learning activities by providing initial content in a database or spreadsheet, making it easier to provide everyone the same information to start with, and setting up the lesson or activity with minimal student effort.
  4. Visualizing and reporting data—Both spreadsheets and databases provide support for taking data and sharing it in visualized and sorted, easy-to-read ways.

 For more information on some of the advantages and difficulties for incorporating spreadsheets in classroom teaching, see the following report from teach-nology.com: http://www.teach-nology.com/tutorials/excel/print.htm.

 For a similar information for using databases in the classroom, see this report from teach-nology.com: http://www.teach-nology.com/tutorials/databases/print.htm.


Stille, K. Database vs. spreadsheet. Retrieved February 19, 2010, from QCI Solutions, Inc. website: http://www.qcisolutions.com/dbinfo1.htm


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Relative Advantage for Using Ed Tech

February 14, 2010 at 4:34 am (ED TECH 541) (, , , )

There are many ways to look at the relative advantages for using educational technology in the classroom; however, for me, the easiest reason is that we can offer unprecedented access for the widest range of students through the use of educational technology.  Students with learning disabilities, students with physical disabilities, students who need one-to-one instruction, students who learn better through visual media–educational technology has the relative advantage of being able to address the specific deficit or need of each student, as dictated by an experienced, knowledgeable teacher. Another area where technology can enhance learning for students in a way teachers would struggle is through the use of assessments and immediate, on-the-fly adaptation of learning based on the assessment. In that statement, I do not mean necessarily a test as much as consistent, constant evaluation of each and every response a student makes during instruction. Of course, technology is also very limited, at this point in time, in the types of responses that can be evaluated. Teachers are still the best overall evaluators of student progress and success, but there are ways that technology tools can analyze data quickly and efficiently to aid teachers in providing instruction for students.

Educational Technology for Increasing Access to Learning

Educational Technology for Data Analysis

The first paragraph focused on the areas of access and data analysis as key areas of relative advantage for the use of educational technology in the classroom. Access for all students and adaptation through data analysis are also the most important areas of relative advantage that I see for technology in the classroom. Other areas of perceived relative advantage include some of the following.

  • Motivation — There is a clear belief and expectation that the use of technology in the classroom can engage and motivate students. I whole heartedly agree, but with the caveat that we must make sure it is the RIGHT technology for the task and for the student. http://caret.iste.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=answers&QuestionID=3
  • Ubiquitous Learning — The idea that students can learn anytime, anywhere is extremely powerful, and one I think will gain more and more steam over the next few years. While teachers can lead learners in this direction, ubiquitous learning will ultimately depend on the learners themselves finding the tools they want and the content they are interested in pursuing. http://education.illinois.edu/uli/
  •  Collaboration — Technology tools provide new and exciting options for collaboration among learners. http://lone-eagles.com/articles/tencollab.htm
  • Simulation/realism — Using educational technology in the classroom continues to provide advances in simulating live environments and experiences that can lead to success in careers and professions. Flight simulators, emergency response systems, call center training, stock-trading games, and so on, can all prepare learners to have greater success in the application of knowledge and skills when stepping into their chosen career. http://www.educationalsimulations.com/

While there are certainly any number of ways and reasons to incorporate edcuational technology in the learning envrionment. Without a teacher’s expertise in knowing what and how to incorporate technology, the learner will not necessarily choose the right tools for the job. It is the idea of shared instructional responsibility between the teacher and educational technology to secure the best learning experience for learners. The relative advantage of using educational technology can only truly occur when the right content is delivered through the right technology at the right time for the right learner, and this doesn’t happen without the teacher.

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What Is Technological Literacy

February 5, 2010 at 8:51 pm (ED TECH 541) (, , , , )

There are a number of ways to define technological literacy, and there are many definitions out there. I won’t spend time rehashing them here, mainly because I believe their definitions of technological literacy to be too limiting. They are foundational points to my view of the definition of technological literacy, so I do want to discuss them briefly. A great starting point, of course, would be the Framework for 21st Century Learning. (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009) I particularly identify with the description including an emphasis on knowing the right tool for the job, knowing how to use that tool successfully, and knowing the ethical and moral considerations around this usage. The importance of successfully processing the massive amount of information being presented to us, at all times anymore, is paramount for success in school, at work, and throughout life. And that is where I find definitions like the Framework limiting.

 For me, the idea of technological literacy goes beyond know what the tools are and how they work. What is equally important, and a partner to this, is how separate this technical skills are from what we consider traditional content and skills and strategies for accessing this content. One step in this direction is the work Andrew Churches completed in creating a digital taxonomy for the eponymous Bloom’s Taxonomy. (Churches, 2008) In his digital taxonomy, Churches focuses on the importance of understanding not only the tools and uses of the tools, but the high-order thinking skills and strategies that must be part of a learner’s experience and skill set to access new learning with the technological literacy they have created. This belief is the center of an ongoing debate between the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the proponents of Core Knowledge. (Troppo, 2009) In the end, I tend to believe they are both right. What is technological literacy without a cognitive map and learning plan? At the same time, what is content without the appropriate educational technologies for today’s students?

 A movement is afoot to develop a set of common core standards. (NGA and CCSSO, 2010) In my position as a content developer for a major publisher, I hear both sides of the argument, and it can be fierce, as to whether core standards are good or bad. In the end, however, I see it more from a functional, instructional standpoint. The core standards are coming. So, what does that mean for general instructional literacy and for technological literacy? A priority has been placed initially on college and career readiness for the common core standards. This should, in theory, force proponents of core knowledge and 21st century skills and constructs to re-evaluate their stances on technological and instructional literacy and how they can be combined for the ultimate endgame—preparing kids for college and career success. As the core standards track down the grades, teachers, instructional designers, and researchers have an opportunity, and likely an imperative, to redefine technological literacy to include all aspects of instructional literacy and incorporate the concept of putting theory into practice in a proven pedagogical approach that leads to both content and functional mastery.


Churches, A. (2008, April 1). Bloom’s taxonomy blooms digitally.   Available: http://www.techlearning.com/article/8670

 National Governors Association and The Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010, February 5). The common core standards initiative. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/

 Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2009). Framework for 21st century learning. Last update May 27, 2009. Available: http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/index.php  

 Troppo, Greg. (2009, March 5). What to Learn: ‘Core Knowledge’ or ‘21st-century skills’? USA Today, Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-03-04-core-knowledge_N.htm

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How Is Educational Technology Defined

February 5, 2010 at 8:45 pm (ED TECH 541) (, )

Educational technology in most recent terms tends to mean the use of digital computer technology in particular. Computer technology is widely used to administer, manage and help individuals research information; however, “educational technology is only concerned with technology as it impacts upon the learning process, e.g. in delivering learning materials, facilitating communication and providing assessment and feedback.” (twinisles.com, 2010) Educational Technology is often defined in today’s world as educating students with the help of technology. A teacher using technology such as a computer, videos on the smart board, webcast lectures, and online-exams can do the teaching in a traditional classroom. Teachers in traditional classrooms also use technology to track their students’ grades in online programs. This would also include professors on college campuses who use Blackboard to share information with students such as their grades. Educational technology also spans beyond the traditional classroom when students use technology to be instructed completely online.

 Another way to define educational technology, though, is to look at it from an instructional design perspective. In other words, educational technology refers to the process of identifying the correct instructional approach for the intended instruction or target learner. (Walden, 2005) This may, indeed, include content delivered digitally to students. At the same time, I would extend that definition to include any realia or teaching tool used in the classroom. For me, teaching students in pre-school through hand puppets is using educational technology as an instructional aid. The question becomes one of what is the right technology for the specific skill, strategy, or content being introduced.

 Educational Technology has many different names. For example, you may have heard it referred to as e-learning or learning technology. Despite all the different names, it just means that the instructional methods and tools being used to support the learning process are well thought out and help to ensure learner success.


This site is simple. It looks like an ed-tech student just like us designed it. That’s why I liked this page; because it was easy to navigate and the information is written in language that even a newbie to educational technology can understand. All the information given about educational technology appears to come from reputable folks like college professors, but I did not review all of them, of course. http://cutshall.myweb.uga.edu/itdefhome.html

 This site was designed for teachers and learners alike. It provides a wealth of information about educational technology and its related fields such as distance learning. It explains how certain aspects of educational technology (simulations and games, digital course material, PowerPoint lectures, audio-visual resources, etc) will improve your classroom. http://edtech.twinisles.com/

 This site, the Teacher’s Reference Desk, provides four areas to help increase your knowledge about and use of educational technology in your classroom. First, resource guides—links you to professional journal articles about educational technology. Second, lesson plans—links you to educational technology lessons. Third, Question/Archives—answers specific questions about Educational Technology. Fourth, Search GEM/ERIC—links you to ERIC articles concerning Educational Technology. http://www.eduref.org/cgi-bin/res.cgi/Educational_Technology

 The international Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) site is dedicated to helping teachers connect with resources that will help them effectively use technology in their classroom. http://www.iste.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Educator_Resources


This five-minute video clip titled, Looking Backward, Thinking Forward effectively shows how technology has changed in the classroom over the past century. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdwEIi22Dv8

 This four-minute video titled, Educational Technology Careers, shows different jobs available to people who have an ED-TECH degree. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QgnpNPIx4&feature=related


Educational technology insight for educators and technologists. (2010, February 5). Retrieved from http://edtech.twinisles.com/

 Walden, S. (2005). Educational Technology.In  B. Hoffman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of

Educational Technology. Retrieved: February 5, 2010, from http://edweb.sdsu.edu/eet/articles/edtech/start.htm

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The Case for Educational Technology

February 1, 2010 at 2:04 am (ED TECH 541)

The Case for Educational Technology

Throughout the history of education, new “technologies” have constantly entered into the consciousness of educators and students. Schools and teachers may have been slightly behind businesses and the general population in terms of adopting technology, but when sound pedagogy presents itself around new technologies, whether it be the pencil instead of the quill or using videotaped lessons instead of live lectures or interactive whiteboards as opposed to chalkboards, educators have recognized their value and adopted the technologies in schools.

It is generally accepted that we are at a crossroads in education like we have never seen before. While change is constant, we are standing at the convergence of three major factors to a degree we haven’t in the past. Educators are working in a world with three major challenges.

  1. Unpredictable Future: We are in a situation where we are preparing students for a future we can’t predict. This is nothing new, but the rate of change is unprecedented.
  2. Networked Students: Students are connected everywhere with everything they do. They are prepared to find people to answer their questions, if not teachers, then someone else.
  3. New Information Landscape: We have no idea what is new tomorrow, so we have to create content that can teach today and adapt for tomorrow’s classroom. (Warlick, 2008)

We have to prepare kids to live in the future, not in the past. As Andrew Molnar stated more than ten years ago, “New, science-based, information industries are emerging in which knowledge and human capital are as important as industrial plants.” (Molnar, 1997) As educators, we have an opportunity to begin meeting kids in their own world, and to extend learning beyond the classroom. A 2003 report funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (Grunwald Associates, 2002) shows not only the ubiquity of technology in children’s lives, but the extent to which this technology adoption has sped up in as little as two years. The results of this report have great implications on why technology should be adopted in the classroom now more than ever before. According to the report:

  • Sixty-five percent of US children now use the Internet, representing a 59% growth rate from 2000.
  • Preschool children are one of the fastest growing groups to be online with 35 percent in 2002 compared with 6 percent in 2000.
  • The older the child, the more time spent online. For example, teenagers claim they spend an average of 8.4 hours per week online, 9-12 year olds report 4.4 hours, and 6-8 year olds report 2.7 hours per week.
  • One in five children log onto the Internet at home every day for educational purposes.
  • Teenagers are online more than they watch television: 3.5 versus 3.1 hours per day.

Often the decision to focus on innovative instruction and accept the burden of the associated costs of this innovation is borne out of necessity. In the area of technology, this has always been driven by business interests and national competitiveness. History has shown repeatedly that when business sees technology as worth teaching, it is willing to help support the implementation of that technology in educational settings. So, too, have nations shown that self-interest can drive a focus on science. We need look no further than the shift of attention toward science education in the United States following the launch of Sputnik. Our competitive and nationalistic spirit made the cost expedient, and intellectual growth followed. Is there evidence that we are at a similar tipping point in the area of technology in education?

A report by McKinsey & Company highlighted the extreme cost to our country from academic achievement gaps in just the time since the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law in 2002. The achievement gap has cost the United States in the following areas: (McKinsey & Company, Social Sector Office, 2009)

  • $400 billion to $670 billion—or 3 to 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)—if students from homes with incomes below $25,000 had risen academically to the level of those above $25,000.
  • $310 billion to $525 billion—or 2 to 4 percent of GDP—if African-Americans and Latinos had caught up academically with whites.
  • $425 billion to $700 billion—or 3 to 5 percent of GDP—if below-average states had performed at the average level.
  • $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion—or 9 to 16 percent of GDP—if the US performed at the level of top-performing nations on PISA, an international test of 15 year olds.

By comparison, in the current deep recession, the US economy is falling about $1 trillion short of its output potential. Addressing this achievement gap will require investment into individualized instruction. Individualized instruction is best delivered through adaptive technology platforms. While opinions on the role of technology in the classroom have always varied, and most likely always will, all we can do is look to evaluate new tools as they become available, find the ones that are most valuable in educational settings, and develop the pedagogy and delivery models necessary to make them work for teachers and students. While these seem simple, concrete steps, making inroads in this area of education has been a long and winding path, and much still needs to be accomplished. In the end, everything comes back to educators understanding how technology can improve education and communities and governments making a commitment to funding the infrastructure, hardware, and instructional materials purchases to foster adoption and implementation of new technologies in the educational mainstream. Without this level of commitment, technology tools will continue to outpace educational solutions and educators will continue to devalue technology tools in the classroom out of expediency.


Grunwald Associates. (2002). Connected to the future: A report on children’s internet use from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Retrieved April 12, 2009, from Corporation for Public Broadcasting Web site: www.cpb.org/stations/reports/connected/connected_report.pdf

Molnar, A. (1997). Computers in education: A brief history. T.H.E. Journal. , Retrieved April 10, 2009, from: http://www.thejournal.com/articles/13739_1.

McKinsey & Company, Social Sector Office. (2009). The economic impact of the achievement gap in America’s schools. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved April 24, 2009, from: http://www.mckinsey.com/clientservice/socialsector/achievement_gap_report.pdf.

Warlick, D. (2008, June 30). Our students, our worlds . Presentation at the National Educational Computing Conference, San Antonio, TX.

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