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IT Skills for Successful Study
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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.