SSAC, math avoidance, spreadsheets, geoscience education


Spreadsheets have been used in education for teaching math concepts for years. However, when faculty at the University of South Florida began using a new set of spreadsheet-based modules to help teach students math and geology concepts the students were not receptive. The complaint most often heard was that students spent more time learning how to use Excel than they did learning the concepts presented in the modules. We began to wonder if the learning curve for Excel was so great that it prevented our students from attaining the level of learning for the math and geology concepts that we had hoped for. Was Excel getting in the way? To investigate this question, we divided the students in two Introductory Physical Geology courses into two groups: one group was given a set of modules which instructed them to use Excel for all calculations; the other group was simply told to complete the calculations but was not instructed what method to use. We anticipated that students in the Non-Excel group would be less frustrated with the modules and thus their learning of the math and geology concepts presented in the modules would be deeper. However, it turned out that this was incorrect. The results of our study show that whether or not the students used Excel had very little to do with the level of learning they achieved. Despite the complaints by students that Excel was hindering their learning with the modules, students in the study attained high gains for both the math and geology concepts presented in the modules whether they used Excel or not. In fact, the only difference in learning we saw was based on which course the student belonged to. Students in the course led by the author of the modules had much larger gains in knowledge across the board than those in the course led by another instructor. It appears that the spreadsheet-based modules are a useful tool for teaching math and geology concepts to students but that the largest effect on the success of these modules lies in the teaching style and/or proximity to the author of the modules.



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