Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Spreadsheets and Databases

Spreadsheets and databases was a good course. It had the potential to be a great course. It didn't quite make it to greatness, but looking back on it, I can see the possibilities. I know it has potential to be a terrible course as well, because I know several people for whom that was the case. Some of that depends on the person taking the course, as databases just don't make sense to some people, but I think most of it has to do with the person teaching.

We had a seating chart, where we had to sit in the same seats every time. We got to pick where but once we picked, it was set, so that the professor could use his map of names and where people sat. I thought it was nice that he was using some type of system to learn our names. I was lucky to have a professor who was actually savvy in the way of databases. Others I know had someone who didn't understand databases at all teaching the course, so instead of spending 50% of the time each on Excel and Access they would spend 12 weeks on Excel and maybe 3 weeks on Access.

I did learn a lot about Excel. I don't know that I ever really "understood" databases from this class, but I learned a lot of the basics. I could perform the various required tasks but didn't have a solid grasp of why you would actually do what we were doing. A roommate of mine sat next to me. I remember him asking one day for the professor to explain how we might use this in real life. It was just too abstract for him, as it was for me and probably most everyone else in the class. Nobody else had the guts to actually ask why we were learning this stuff. I don't remember his answer other than it wasn't a good one.

This makes me think of one of the key principles of andragogy or adult education, which is that adults will do better if they understand why they are learning something. I contend that children and young adults, for whom a pedagogical or teacher-centered approach is traditionally used, would also do better if they understood the why. The difference is in the power relationship we have when teaching younger students. They still want to know and sometimes are even willing to ask how what they are learning will be useful to them. Because of the imbalance of power, we blow them off instead of taking them seriously. Adults simply hold their ground and require you to come up with a good answer while young students who hold their ground are disciplined.

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