There are lots of reasons that you might use Google Spreadsheets instead of Microsoft’s Excel or SPSS. As a teaser for this week’s Faculty Friday, here are a narrow set of the benefits you’ll find with Spreadsheets.
Careful and measured data analysis is an important part of the research process. With that in mind, it’s also important to have a sense of what the data is saying at a glance. Google Spreadsheets gives you the flexibility to survey students about a topic and immediately transfer that information into a spreadsheet. Instant results means being able to skip the steps of scoring results, inputting them in a spreadsheet, and doing calculations by hand. While those skills are essential to learn and cultivate, it’s easy for students to feel lost in a sea of procedural steps before they see any results. Using Spreadsheets allows you to talk the data you’ve collected immediately, explore questions around what might be missing or inconsistant, and coach students through the process of data analysis.
Data that’s in a Spreadsheet
Google Spreadsheets gives you a variety of options for downloading your data once you’ve collected it. You can pull your data as a CSV (Comma Separated Value), HTML, Text, Excel, OpenOffice, or a PDF. This gives you the flexibility to go back to Excel or SPSS, if that’s where you’re comfortable working with data, if you would rather not use Google Spreadsheets.
Data that you can Graph – Immediately
Once you understand how Spreadsheets organizes data, it’s easy to create graphs that update in real time. Real time graphs give you a tool, as an instructor, that allows you to create visual representations of trends or attitudes. Reading charts and graphs is an important part of interpreting quantitative data, and this gives you an avenu for reinforcing that skill set.
Data that you can reference
Spreadsheets are a tremendously powerful tool. Hands down. The problem is that learning to use them well can be an intimidating process. One of the wonderful things about a spreadsheet is that values in cells can be referenced in other cells or on other pages. This means that results and calculations can be deeply connected to one another. It also means that a single data set can be used for multiple purposes without needing to be copied or altered.
Data that students can manipulate
The real benefit of a Google Spreadsheet over an Excel spreadsheet comes in the form of real time collaboration and manipulation. Instead of trading a single file back and forth with multiple versions, students access a single document that behaves in the same way on a PC and on a Mac. You always have access to the most recent version of the document, and you can track the revisions of a document over time. Additionally, you have the ability to lock portions of the spreadsheet if you need to protect your raw data. Locked pages in a spreadsheet can still be referenced with formulas on other pages. This means that students reference your primary data set, and the data set of their peers, but not be able to accidentally delete data or formulas.