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IT Skills for Successful Study

Home > Study skills > Personal effectiveness > IT Skills for Successful Study

Information and communication technology forms part of all aspects of education. It is now expected that students will word process their essays, analyse their findings using a spreadsheet, take part in online discussion through email and present information using visual aids. IT Skills for Successful Study covers:

The example below illustrates how a spreadsheet model can help you produce excellent results.

Example - How to investigate the capacity of the university library?

The method was to count the number of students entering and leaving the library from opening at 9am to close at 9pm each day. Counting the number of students entering and leaving the library is easy but it is a large task then to analyse the meaning of the mass of figures you have produced. Table 1 shows the basic numbers who enter and leave the library each hour. However, what do you need to do in order to consider the capacity of the library? You will need to know:

1. How many students use the library each day?
2. How many students are in the library in each hour?
3. What is the pattern of using the library (i.e. are some days of parts of days mmore popular than others)?
4. What trends are you able to identify?

Addressing these questions would allow you to organise the library to meet student needs (e.g. how many staff to have on duty at specific times?), assess if the library is large enough and ensure the safety of users (i.e. avoid overcrowding and decide on fire escape procedures).

You could undertake the analysis with a piece of paper and a calculator but this would take a long time and each time you wanted to change part of the approach it would mean starting again. A spreadsheet allows you to create a model of the library in which you could explore change. It also provides a method of ensuring accuracy when undertaking lots of calculations.

Table 1 Entering and leaving the library

Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday

Time

Enter

Leave

Enter

Leave

Enter

Leave

Enter

Leave

Enter

Leave

Enter

Leave

9

160

97

165

108

125

76

190

110

142

128

36

18

10

126

110

110

145

195

156

325

38

302

178

46

27

11

157

139

235

45

212

145

213

57

198

76

56

34

12

214

198

156

98

198

98

45

89

208

89

62

28

13

389

298

86

102

389

245

56

120

186

143

54

62

14

356

355

56

116

456

476

78

156

245

156

42

34

15

135

278

345

105

560

425

89

167

116

165

37

45

16

321

345

123

245

235

312

92

111

104

212

32

42

17

123

134

68

214

230

325

45

134

58

210

22

44

18

90

55

78

196

125

180

23

124

45

205

18

39

19

32

26

24

54

55

105

32

43

24

37

15

36

20

16

84

12

30

25

262

12

51

8

37

4

15

The next steps are:

1. Enter the information into a spreadsheet
2. Total the number of students who enter the library each day
3. Calculate how many students are in the library each hour
4. Analyse the daily use of the library

1. Enter the information into a spreadsheet

Figure 1 illustrates the basic spreadsheet. Notice that we have included a row and column totals as well as a column for the running total of students in the library.

Figure 1 Basic Spreadsheet

2. Total the number of students who enter the library each day

Microsoft Excel provides the Sum function to total columns and rows of figures. If you also use the function to total the leaving column, you have a check on the accuracy of your data since the number entering and leaving should be equal over a day.

The total formula will be =Sum (C3:C14)

To get the total each hour involves two different calculations. The first is the total of students entering and the second of students leaving.

Formula Entering = (C3+F3+I3+L3+O3+R3)

Formula Leaving = (D3+G3+J3+M3+P3+S3)

3. Calculate how mant students are in the library each hour

This is slightly more complex in that in the first hour it is simply the difference between those entering and leaving. However, after the first hour it needs to consider the students who are already in the library.

First Hour = Student entering minus students leaving (e.g. = C3-D3)

Second and subsequent hours = Student entering minus students leaving plus students already in library (e.g. =F3 + (C4-D4))

4. Analyse the daily use of the library

Figure 2 Analysis

This is the start of using the sheet to analyse the problem. You might wish to:

1. Present the information visually since this is often helpful in identifying trends. Figure 3 visually illustrates students entering and leaving in the library on Monday. What does it show you?
2. Identify and consider average values of attendance (e.g. average number of students entering and leaving the library).
3. Show the minimum and maximum numbers of students.
4. Consider options such as changing the opening hours on each day to reflect use or to save funds.

A spreadsheet provides you with a wide number of options. Try to consider some of the issues or other ones that you prefer.

Figure 4 Monday

For more advice on using IT skills for your study, see also Research using IT and e-learning skills.

This content has been written by Alan Clarke, author of IT Skills for Successful Study.